Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street

Originally Reviewed 6/7/2015 – revised 3/19/2016

Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street by Herman Melville

I was pointed to an article on longreads.com about the origins of white collar workers, which begins with a synopsis of Bartleby, The Scrivener. Since I was able to get the Kindle edition for free, I grabbed it.

I am not really a fiction reader and sometimes the 19th century stuff just does not connect with me. However, this being one of the earliest works that describes an semi-modern office, I found the descriptions of the people and the relationships to be somewhat familiar.

The story is odd and the conclusion is not terribly satisfying. The narrator, who is the employer of the strange man named Bartleby, seems to go out of his way to put up with the kind of refusal to work that would not last in a modern office. Bartleby’s repetitive use of the phrase “I prefer not to” for every request is a bit beyond beliveable. It is likely more of a thought experiment than a normal story.

However, I think this is mainly a problem with my reading of the story than the story itself. I have to say if you can get it, I think “Bartleby” is somewhat interesting, if not a classic tale.

Find the link to the LongReads article here: I Would Prefer Not To