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Encyclopedia > Bartleby, the Scrivener

"Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street" is a short story by American author Herman Melville (1819-1891). The story first appeared, anonymously, in Putnam's Magazine in two parts. The first part appeared in November 1853, with the conclusion published in December 1853. It was reprinted in Melville's The Piazza Tales in 1856 with minor textual alterations. Telling a problem to a public scrivener. ... Elaborate marble facade of NYSE as seen from the intersection of Broad and Wall Streets For other uses, see Wall Street (disambiguation). ... This article is in need of attention. ... Herman Melville (August 1, 1819 – September 28, 1891) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. ... Putnam’s Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science and Art was a monthly periodical published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons featuring American literature and articles on science, art, and politics. ... 1853 was a common year starting on Saturday (see link for calendar). ... 1853 was a common year starting on Saturday (see link for calendar). ... The Piazza Tales is a collection of short stories by Herman Melville, which he published with Dix & Edwards in 1856 in the United States. ... 1856 was a leap year starting on Tuesday (see link for calendar). ...



The work is said to have been inspired, in part, by Melville's reading of Emerson, and some have pointed to specific parallels to Emerson's essay, "The Transcendentalist." (citation needed) Ralph Waldo Emerson (May 25, 1803 – April 27, 1882) was an American essayist, poet, and leader of the Transcendentalist movement in the early nineteenth century. ... Ralph Waldo Emersons The Transcendentalist is one of the essays he wrote while establishing the doctrine of American Transcendentalism. ...

Plot summary

The narrator, an elderly lawyer who has a comfortable business helping wealthy men deal with mortgages, title deeds, and bonds, relates the story of the strangest man he has ever known. Bartleby is a new addition to the narrator's staff. The narrator already employs two scriveners, Nippers and Turkey. Nippers suffers from indigestion, and Turkey is a drunk, but the office survives because in the mornings Turkey is sober even though Nippers is irritable, and in the afternoon Nippers has calmed down even though Turkey is drunk. Ginger Nut, the office boy, gets his name from the little cakes he brings the men. Bartleby comes in answer to an ad, and the narrator hires the forlorn looking young man in hopes that his calmness will soothe the temperaments of the other scriveners.

One day, when the narrator asks Bartleby to help proofread a copied document, Bartleby answers simply, "I would prefer not to." It is the first of Bartleby's many refusals. To the dismay of the narrator and the irritation of the other employees, Bartleby performs fewer and fewer duties around the office. The narrator makes several attempts to reason with Bartleby and learn about him, but Bartleby always responds the same way when asked to do a task or give out information about himself: "I would prefer not to." One weekend, when the narrator stops in at the office, he discovers that Bartleby is living at the office. The loneliness of Bartleby's life strikes the narrator: at night and on Sundays, Wall Street is as desolate as a ghost town. He alternates between pity and revulsion for Bartleby's bizarre behavior.

Bartleby continues to refuse to perform his duties, although strictly speaking, he in each case simply responds that he would "prefer not to." This pattern continutes to the point that finally he is doing no work at all. Even then, the narrator cannot get him to leave. The reluctant scrivener has a strange power over his employer, and the narrator feels that he cannot do anything to harm this forlorn man. The sense of urgency is increased as the narrator's business associates begin to wonder at Bartleby's presence at the office, noticing that he does no work. Sensing the threat of a ruined reputation, the narrator feels compelled to act. His attempts to get Bartleby to go are, however, fruitless.

The narrator moves his offices to a new location, thinking this will rid him of Bartleby. Soon after, the new tenants of the narrator's old offices come to him asking for help: Bartleby will not move. When they oust him from the offices, Bartleby haunts the hallways. The narrator goes to see Bartleby in one last attempt to reason with him, but Bartleby rejects him. For fear of being bothered by the anti-Bartleby folks, the narrator stays away from work for a few days. When he returns, he learns that Bartleby has been put in prison.

At the prison, Bartleby seems even more glum than usual. He rebuffs the narrator's friendliness. Nonetheless, the narrator bribes a turnkey to make sure Bartleby stays well fed. The narrator returns a few days later to check on Bartleby only to discover that Bartleby had died. He preferred not to eat.

Some time afterward, the narrator conveys a rumor that shed a brief insight into Bartleby's life. Bartleby worked in a Dead Letter Office. The narrator reflects that the dead letters would have made anyone of Bartleby's temperament sink into an even darker gloom. The letters are emblems for our mortality and the failure of our best intentions. Through Bartleby, the narrator has glimpsed the world as the miserable scrivener must have seen it. The closing words of the story are the narrator's resigned and pained sigh: "Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!" The United States Postal Service started a dead letter office in 1825 to deal with undeliverable mail. ...


The story has been adapted for film twice: once in 1970, starring Paul Scofield, and again in 2001, starring Crispin Glover. Year 1970 (MCMLXX) was a common year starting on Thursday (link shows full calendar) of the Gregorian calendar. ... David Paul Scofield, CH, CBE (born 21 January 1922) is a British actor who was born in Hurstpierpoint, Sussex, England. ... Year 2001 (MMI) was a common year starting on Monday (link displays the 2001 Gregorian calendar). ... For the Scarling. ...


"Bartleby the Scrivener" is among the most famous of American short stories. It has been considered a precursor to absurdist literature although the story was not very popular at the time it was published. "Bartleby" touches on many of the themes extant in the work of Franz Kafka, particularly in The Trial and "A Hunger Artist." However, there exists nothing to indicate that the German-language writer was at all familiar with Melville, who was largely forgotten until after Kafka's death. Absurdism is a philosophy stating that the efforts of humanity to find meaning in the universe will ultimately fail (and, hence, are absurd) because no such meaning exists, at least in relation to humanity. ... Kafka redirects here. ... This article is about the novel by Kafka. ... A Hunger Artist (Ein Hungerkünstler), also translated as A Fasting Artist, is a short story by Franz Kafka published in Die Neue Rundschau in 1922. ... German (called Deutsch in German; in German the term germanisch is equivalent to English Germanic), is a member of the western group of Germanic languages and is one of the worlds major languages. ...

Albert Camus cites Melville (explicitly over Kafka) as one of his key influences in a personal letter to Liselotte Dieckmann which was published in the French Review in 1998. For other uses, see Camus. ...

Spanish writer Enrique Vila-Matas wrote the award-winning novel entitled "Bartleby & Co." that creates a catalogue of the many "bartlebys" in literature: writers who gave up writing, the "Literature of No", writers who sought denial, such as the character created by Melville.

In contemporary political thought, writers such as Michael Hardt, Toni Negri, and Slavoj Žižek (in The Parallax View) have posited examples, based on Bartleby, of the ideal revolutionary subject in the struggle against imperialism and capitalism. This article does not cite any references or sources. ... Antonio Negri (born 1933 in Padua) is an Italian moral and political philosopher. ... Slavoj Žižek (pronounced: ) (born 21 March 1949) is a Slovenian sociologist, postmodern philosopher, and cultural critic. ... Look up Imperial in Wiktionary, the free dictionary. ... For other uses, see Capitalism (disambiguation). ...

External links

Wikisource has original text related to this article:
Bartleby, the Scrivener

  Results from FactBites:
"Bartleby The Scrivener" (1242 words)
The short story "Bartleby The Scrivener" is an almost surrealistic story about a man who refuses to do anything he does not "prefer to", and endly he refuses to do anything.
He is the opposite of Bartleby: he observes the world around him with sensibility, and a large proportion of his thinking is about his fellow-men - his employees, his clients, and Bartleby.
When Bartleby gave up these instincts he died, and that without any insults from outside; he died in an environment which was not even hostile against him.
  More results at FactBites »



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