“In the spring of 1853 after the failure of his novel Pierre: Or the Ambiguities and the rejection of his most recent manuscript, The Isle of the Cross (now lost), Herman Melville submitted three stories to Harper's. This was the beginning of period that would see the publication of such...”see full review » see other reviews »
“In the spring of 1853 after the failure of his novel Pierre: Or the Ambiguities and the rejection of his most recent manuscript, The Isle of the Cross (now lost), Herman Melville submitted three stories to Harper's. This was the beginning of period that would see the publication of such great stories as "Bartley, the Scrivener", "Benito Cereno", "The Piazza", and others. It would culminate with his great unfinished novella, Billy Budd, Sailor. All of Melville's tales including Billy Budd are included in this collection from Harper's Perennial Library.
By the end of 1853 Melville submits his first story that can be considered not only great but even amazing; this is Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street. The story amazes in many ways and on many levels. One theme is a world of walls as the narrator, an "unambitious" lawyer who prefers the peace of his office to the bustle of the courtroom with judge and jury. He describes himself as "an eminently safe man", certainly someone who his clients can trust. The world of his office, located on Wall Street, is one of walls within, separating the scriveners from the lawyer, and walls without since the view from the few windows is limited by the proximity of the walls of the building next door.
Into his apparently prosperous business enters Bartleby, a scrivener or clerk, who is hired to handle some additional copying work. Bartleby, as we soon learn, would "prefer not" to do any task other than copying and before too long he seems to slowly stop doing any work. He is a "forlorn" and sickly character from the beginning (reminiscent of the copyist "Nemo", a minor character in Dickens' Bleak House). And his presence gradually requires the narrator to attempt, unsuccessfully, to provoke him so that he might respond in kind. Their worlds clash and in another deeper sense a spiritual realm is entered. The result is a crisis of faith for the lawyer, he thought to himself: "I might give alms to his body; but his body did not pain him; it was his soul that suffered, and his soul I could not reach." (p 56)
One may interpret Bartleby as a "Christ-like" messenger, but what is his message? The variety of themes in the story takes on an objective pathos and parabolic overtones that are almost Dostoievskian in complexity. The story ends with a sort of epilogue that succeeds only in muddying the message further. What makes the story so magnificent is all of the many different possibilities present in it. Just as the narrator has his faith shaken and his perceptions changed by Bartleby, the reader finds his imagination roiled by the possibilities -- the ending merely lays out a choice for the reader. You decide what it all means.”
“"The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids" was tedious in the beginning; the second part of the work was vastly more entertaining and interesting. I liked Melville's use of imagery, particularly in the mountains surrounding the paper mill, and how it related to the maids.
"Bartleby, the Scrivener" was interesting; I enjoyed trying to interpret it, and I understand why it is seen as one of Melville's most difficult works to analyze. I thought that parts of it were too long, but overall I was surprised at how interesting and (unintentionally?) funny it was. I liked finally reading where the iconic "I prefer not to" came from.
"Benito Cereno" was very dense, very boring, very long. It was frustrating, because it was 85 pages of what could have been told in 40. I loved the concept of the plot, as well as the ending, which gave me a chill. (Cereno did follow his leader.) But working my way through it was not a good time.”
“I just started reading this little book, after only ever having read Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" (which is in this collection) previously (having somehow avoided "Moby Dick" lo these 46 years--probably owing to my long term love affair with whales, a poor excuse I know). So far, I've read "The Lightning Rod Man" in here, and all I can say is that I smiled and laughed and was amazed. For that alone, I give it five stars”oen k wrote this review Monday, April 7, 2008. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No