Tag Archives: bartelby the scrivener

Will you, or will you not, quit me?

I’d never read Melville’s Bartelby the Scrivener until this weekend. The story/novella’s wiki says he wrote it to cheer himself up in the midst of Moby Dick‘s commercial failure.

It’s so playful in how often it strays from its story, and in how much unnecessary wind-up the narrator takes to get us there. A comedy of “let’s see how long I can string this out,” and Melville riffs more than well enough to get away with it. Here’s the narrator, who just found out that the man he’s fired has never left the office:

I was thunderstruck. For an instant I stood like the man who, pipe in mouth, was killed one cloudless afternoon long ago in Virginia, by summer lightning; at his own warm open window he was killed, and remained leaning out there upon the dreamy afternoon, till some one touched him, when he fell.

Pretty great. It’s free here.

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