‘I would prefer not to’ says the main character of this story. Maybe the most enigmatic line in American Literature.
In Bartleby, the Scrivener, A Story of Wall Street, Melville gives us a portrait of a copyist – a thin, efficient, anonymous figure named Bartleby, who is in a sense a human photocopy machine. And in this story, Melville follows the benign, kindly reflections of an employer. An employer of a man who at a certain point decides he just doesn’t want to be a copy machine any more. But he can’t protest because he’s actually become too traumatized and frozen by what life has brought him so far.
And so he becomes instead a fixture in the office, a burden, a constant moral reminder of all that’s wrong in the world, a symbol of a world turning people into human copy machines. The narrator of this story does everything any of us would do, and more, to try to solve the problem of this man he has employed who will no longer work. He’s just a burden on the payroll. What would you do if someone you fired wouldn’t leave?
Herman Melville was born in New York on August 1, 1819 to a rich mercantile family which declined due to great losses in business. His father, Allan Melville was an importer of French dry goods who died after going bankrupt when Melville was 12 years old. After leaving school at the age of 12, Herman worked at several jobs as a clerk, teacher and farmhand. He also studied Shakespeare and other technical, historical and anthropological works despite his bad eyesight.
Melville was thirsty for adventure and in 1839 he set out to sea. In 1841, Herman sailed on a whaler bound. His adventures continued and in 1842 he was on a ship in the Marquesas Islands. His Polynesian adventures produced his early successful novels. However, his upcoming novel, Mardi (1849) did not do well. In the same year he wrote Redburn followed by White-Jacket (1850), a book depicting the tough life of sailors, in the next year. Shortly after White-Jacket, came Moby Dick (1851), his distinguished contribution to American literature.
He wrote Pierre in 1852 hoping to advance his career and earn better but the Gothic romantic fiction brought him nothing except disaster both financially and critically. Melville also wrote magazine stories in Putnam’s Monthly Magazine which revolved around the hypocritical and materialistic nature of man. Herman took a job as a customs inspector in 1866. He spent the last days of his literary career writing prose and his last work Billy Budd, Foretopman was not published until after his death.
Literary Gathering: Bartleby the scrivener by Herman Melville
When: Sunday 03/07/16 at 17:30 pm
Where: Nagamat – C/ Huertas, 59 – Madrid
Language: English (we read and debate in English)
Organizers: Juan Carlos Rodríguez
Open admission — let us know you’re coming:
Required: To read the book