Bartleby the Scrivener
by Herman Melville
-born in America, 1819
-more about Melville (via Goodreads)
Authorial Tidbits: (via Melville House)
- Herman Melville was born to "double revolutionary descent": a paternal grandfather involved in the Boston Tea Party and a maternal grandfather who fought at Saratoga.
- At 18 he set sail on a whaler, and later based many of his works on his travels.
- Starting with Moby-Dick in 1851, his increasingly complex and challenging work drew increasingly negative criticism. He stopped publishing fiction after 1857.
- He eventually turned to poetry, convincing relatives to fund the publication of several volumes that did not fare well.
- Drifting into obscurity, he ended up working for the customs house on the docks of lower Manhattan and died in 1891.
Synopsis: (via Melville House)
The tale is one of the final works of fiction published by Melville before, slipping into despair over the continuing critical dismissal of his work after Moby-Dick, he abandoned publishing fiction. The work is presented here exactly as it was originally published in Putnam's magazine—to, sadly, critical disdain.
Well I still have no desire to read Moby-Dick, but that is due to my aversion to the ocean rather than because of Melville's writing. It did take me a couple of pages to get into the rhythm of his vocabulary and sentence structure, but I ended up enjoying it. There is a subtlety in the storytelling that would be easy to miss, I think. This story is not one that swept me in and absorbed me, capturing my attention like a passing ambulance; it is one that drew me in slowly and steadily and left me wanting to know much more.
The more I thought over my procedure, the more I was charmed with it. Nevertheless, next morning, upon awakening, I had my doubts--I had somehow slept off the fumes of vanity.Have you ever thought about the minute human patterns that we associate with normal or healthy human behavior, and how--if those patterns are altered or absent--we immediately think something is wrong, regardless of whether we are able to define or justify exactly why the unexpected behavior is bad? Bartleby himself is one item of curiosity in this novella, but equally interesting is how everyone else reacts to him.
But he seemed to be alone, absolutely alone in the universe. A bit of wreck in the mid-Atlantic.(With this novella, perhaps because of the jump from the crumbling aristocracy of Russia to the bustling busy-ness of Wall Street, perhaps because of the switch in topics from relationships to business, I feel like my reading has jumped from the past to the almost-present. I'll soon be back in Russia with Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, so we'll see if my feeling holds...America just feels much, much newer than Russia.)
I related the story of Bartleby to my 12-year-old son (my reader & deep thinker) and the "I would prefer not to" lines had him laughing. It's such an interesting way of looking at the world--a slight twist in typical behavior, a subtle shift that makes a huge difference.
At present I would prefer not to be a little reasonable," was his mildly cadaverous reply.