Ep. 932, Bartleby, the Scrivener, by Herman Melville VINTAGE

The Classic Tales Podcast

21-05-2024 • 1 hr 40 mins

The life of a scrivener is an existence resigned to the handwritten copying of law documents. One day something clicks in Bartleby, and his simple reply to everything is: “I prefer not to.” Herman Melville, today on The Classic Tales Podcast.

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Today’s story was published anonymously in 1853. Melville was in a bit of financial straits at the time, since his last two novels, Moby Dick and Pierre, didn’t sell well at all.

Melville's major source of inspiration for the story was an advertisement for a new book, The Lawyer's Story, by James A. Maitland. This advertisement included the complete first chapter, which started: "In the summer of 1843, having an extraordinary quantity of deeds to copy, I engaged, temporarily, an extra copying clerk, who interested me considerably, in consequence of his modest, quiet, gentlemanly demeanor, and his intense application to his duties." Melville biographer Hershel Parker said nothing else in the chapter besides this "remarkably evocative sentence" was notable.

It's never directly addressed why Bartleby acts the way he does, and the author has left it open to interpretation. Many critics posit that his behavior is due to depression.

And now, Bartleby, the Scrivener, by Herman Melville

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