Bartleby the Scrivener – Herman Melville

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This tale is narrated by a very Dickensian gentleman of Wall Street. He is self important, prejudiced, stuffy and pretentious. His world, where everyone and thing has a proper place and a proper order, is rocked by the quietest of revolutionaries. A recently hired, and presumed respectable,  Bartleby voices the phrase ‘I would prefer not to’. His polite refusal defies more than just a direct instruction but the whole construction of society. This is a display of individualism that the narrator cannot countenance. It reminded me of a child asking ‘Why?’. Rather than listening and engaging with Bartleby the man, our dear spluttering narrator tries to knock sense into him with the rule book, to no avail. Bartleby’s continual refusal to integrate and conform without reason or justification eventually leads him down a grim path. There is a lot that can be read into this, but I like the idea of someone who has stood back from everyone else burrowing through life and realised that there is no ‘must’ yet in applying this indiscriminately he opts out of more than just society but also the essentials of living.

Read: At the tail end of summer in Spoke and Stringer by Bristol’s floating harbour

Felt: it was a little dry in places but I loved the overall idea of the swathes of unease and upset caused by such a simple harmless phrase.

Would recommend: hesitantly, it is an interesting thing to have read but not the most captivating of books. In between fun ones, I’d say.

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