Book Review: Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville


The first time I read Bartleby was in grad school. And do we ever appreciate anything properly when we are forced to read it? I worry that I can’t remember one word or feeling from the classroom discussion, but I think that says more about the quality of the discussion and less about my memory.

The second time I read it I think I was so looking for the magic key that would explain the story that I rushed through it.

This time I took it slow paying careful attention to everything. Because of this I enjoyed it.

For those who don’t know this famous story, Bartleby is a legal copyist for a Wall Street lawyer. There are many things Bartleby doesn’t want to do with his mantra being “I prefer not to”.

After looking around online (and at Frances’ review) and there are many different ways one can read this book. I even approached it with a queer perspective and really don’t put much stock in the homoerotic possibilities. The only thing that had any resonance with me is that Melville was suffering from clinical depression and fantasized about letting every obligation go bit by bit until he could finally turn his head toward the wall and die.

The Verdict: While I quite enjoyed reading Bartleby this time round, I am not sure I a m any wiser for the experience.


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