Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville

Bartleby-the-Scrivener
I did not use this copy (it’s free on Kindle), but isn’t this Art of Novella series lovely?

If there’s a classic that I do not wish to read ever, it is Moby Dick. I’m never interested in anything nautical, any story set in a boat does not grab me (Life of Pi is an exception), and Melville pretty much scared me. So with much reservation, I picked up Bartleby the Scrivener (1853), a novella / short story, for the third week of our Fiction of Relationship course.

I was pleasantly surprised. Bartleby is set in a New York office, and it has nothing to do with boat or sea. Bartleby is the name of a character who baffles everyone, as he “prefers to” do all kinds of things that people don’t understand. He refuses to do little things here and there at first, until it escalates into bigger things. I caught the humour early on in the story, and it stays funny or even gets funnier until the end. It is light and smart, and mightily enjoyable.

I thought if this is how Melville writes, I could read his works all day long!

Unfortunately when I moved on to his second work for the course, a short story titled Benito Cereno (also free on Kindle), I gave up after a few exhausting pages. The writing was dense like a stale old bread, it was impossible for me to penetrate. I went to Wiki to just get the gist of the plot, and found out that it is very smart in terms of both plot and technique, but again it would’ve taken me too much effort to get to the end. It doesn’t help that we get back to boats and sailors in Benito Cereno.

I guess I wouldn’t be reading Moby Dick anytime soon.

More books we read for this course:
Manon Lescaut by Abbé Prévost
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

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