"BARTLEBY THE SCRIVENER" HERMAN MELVILLE
Cover detail and frontispiece from Four Short Novels. New York: Bantam, 1959.
Source: Newman, Lea Bertani Voza. A Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of Herman Melville. Boston, MA: Hall, 1986.
Originally published in two installments on November 1 and December 1, 1853, in Putnam's. Melville received $55 for first eleven pages, $30 for last six.
SUGGESTED MODELS FOR BARTLEBY
Melville himself--Melville responding to "public's rejection of Pierre, portraying his refusal to 'copy' the popular writers of his day"--"the lawyer's chambers are the prison of Melville's life...the 'dead letters' are Melville's manuscripts"
George Adler--acquaintance on a voyage in 1849 to England, New York university professor, who suffered from agoraphobia
Eli James Murdock Fly--apprentice lawyer and copyist in Peter Gansevoort's law office in Albany, confirmed invalid--while Melville in South Seas, Fly writing "incessantly" from morning to evening as copyist--Melville had sought employment as scrivener in 1840 before going to sea--Fly died about time Melville wrote "Bartleby."
Agatha Robertson of Falmouth, "who waited for her husband's return for seventeen years, unaware that he had deserted her and had, in the meantime, illegally married two other women"--series of letters between Melville and Hawthorne about Agatha in 1852--a version of the Agatha story written, probably in 1852-53--suggestion of a rotting wooden postbox, like the Dead Letter Office
"Wakefield" by Hawthorne
SUGGESTED MODELS FOR LAWYER
Lemuel Shaw--"repeatedly came to his son-in-law's financial aid"... ruling in 1850 landmark case of Brown versus Kendall that Kendall "was not liable for the accidental injuries he had caused Brown because he had exercised 'prudent' care." Contradictions of time--"the fellow-servant rule" which 'denied employees any recourse for injuries by upholding their status as 'free' men."
Evert A. Duyckinck--literary editor who disapproved of Moby-Dick--the lawyer a "satirical portrait of Duycknick, another 'safe' man who cannot comprehend his unorthodox writer Melville."
Other suggestions: Allan Melville, Gansevoort Melville
Lawyer a combination of Melville's "two basic narrative personae"--genial, "engaging anecdotist" and the "ironic figure of incomplete perceptions"--"only someone like the lawyer can find consolation in the rumored sequel"
DOES THE NARRATOR LEARN FROM THE EXPERIENCE?
Meyer--suggests chamber theatre with two actors playing the part of the narrator--to show change
Donaldson-- believes the narrator is purblind, tells story self-righteously to justify actions
failure which 'reflects Melville's obsession with his failure as a writer"
"communication struggle between articulation and silence that endangers interpersonal relations"--connection between Bartleby's refusal to speak and Billy Budd's stutter
attack on American commercial society--"a way of life that dehumanizes relationships and demeans the individual"--"exploitative conditions of employment"
anti-slavery--irony--"basically kind lawyer...coerced by 'business' necessities to act uncharitably"--also in "Benito Cereno"--"compelled by legal necessity to return the rebellious Africans to slavery"--Lemuel Shaw--upholding "rule by law even when the law supports the slave economy of the South and the wage-slave economy of the North"
WALL--connected with Ahab's whale, "walls which hem in the meditative artist," "walls of language which separate one man's perception from another,"
GREEN--green grass, green screen,--"hope for average man" but "severity of treatment of the artist"
Plumstead, A.W. "Bartleby: Melville's Venture into a New Genre." In A Symposium: Bartleby the Scrivener. Ed. Howard P. Vincent. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1966.Melville achieves a single effect, adapts journey motif to confined setting, handles time and point of view skillfully.
- Abrams, Robert. "'Bartleby' and the Fragile Pattern of the Ego." English Literary History 45 (1978): 488-500. Draws on Freud's essay on "The Uncanny"--the subliminal recognition of what is intimate (but shunned) in the macabre--sees "the attorney's reaction to Bartleby as a revolt of the self" --"the attorney beholds in his copyist--and draws nervously back from--a blind instinctual core of being"
Barber, Patricia. "What if Bartleby were a Woman?" In The Authority of Experience. Ed. Arlyn Diamond and Lee R. Edwards. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1977. 212-23. "By imagining Bartleby as a woman, the story can be seen as essentially a love story about 'a man who is confined in an office setting that forbids intimacy and who comes to love a person he cannot save.'"
Widmer, Kingley. "The Negative Affirmation: Melville's 'Bartleby.'" Modern Fiction STudies 8 (1962): 276-86. "Bartleby is 'an archetypal figure' of 'the ultimate passive resistor.'"
READER RESPONSE CRITICISM
Norman, Liane. "Bartleby and the Reader." New England Quarterly 44 (1971): 22-39. Story a "puzzling, disturbing, and even accusing experience"--the reader recognizes "the assumptions and attitudes that he or she may share with the lawyer"
Shusterman, David. "The 'Reader Fallacy' and 'Bartleby the Scrivener.'" New England Quarterly 45 (1972): 118-24. Refutation, accusing Norman of 'affective fallacy'
Joswick, Thomas P. "The 'Incurable Disorder' in 'Bartleby the Scrivener.'" Delta 6 (1978): 79-93. Story rejects assurance "of origin, purpose, and end for our history"
Rowe, John Carlos. "Ecliptic Voyaging: Orbits of the Sign in Melville's 'Bartleby the Scrivener.'" In Through the Custom-House: Nineteenth-Century American Fiction and Modern Theory. Baltimore, Johns Hopkins UP, 1982. Bartleby embodies Derrida's "differance: the uncanny and vagrant property in language that motivates expression--a decentering force that disrupts the stable world--"By acting as a 'defamiliarizing' agent, Bartleby plays the same role as literary language in destroying historically implanted meanings."
Internet site: http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/~daniel/amlit/bartleby/bartleby.html#2