“I would prefer not to”

“That Herman Melville has gone ‘clean daft’, is very much to be feared; certainly, he has given us a very mad book…The sooner this author is put in ward the better. If trusted with himself, at all events give him no further trust in pen and ink, till the present fit has worn off. He will grievously hurt himself else – or his very amiable publishers.”

This grotesque reaction of a reviewer of a new work of Herman Melville, the author of  “Bartleby the Scrivener”, shows that something went indeed wrong with Melville. But he didn’t go mad – he did something even more unforgivable: he disappointed the expectations of his readers!

After his adventurous youth as a sailor and living on Pacific islands with cannibals, he became famous with adventure novels like Typee and Omoo. But instead of staying in this line of work and becoming a bestselling author, he delivered Moby Dick, an already very difficult to swallow piece of literature, too dark and too philosophical for the biggest part of the 19th century audience. And as if this was not already enough, he came up finally with one of the strangest literary heroes of all times: Bartleby.

What hasn’t been written about this story! Especially since the 1920s, when psychoanalysis and the publication of Franz Kafka’s (and Robert Walser’s with its countless office clerks) works lead to a Melville renaissance,

Melville’s oeuvre and especially Bartleby has been interpreted again and again – Bartleby, the psycho-pathological case study; Bartleby as a criticism of Thoreau’s flight from civilization; Bartleby as a self-portrait of Melville (who had to work as a customs officer after the publication of this story due to his falling out with the reading public of his time); Bartleby as a parable concerning the life of the artist in a world dominated by business interests (the story takes place mainly at Wall Street); Bartleby as a predecessor of Camus and existentialist philosophy; Bartleby as a modern Hiob or even Jesus (the story is full of biblical references). – And this is just a small choice of possible interpretations!

But this is not my main point here – Bartleby is one of the few cases in literature that is open to such a big variety of possible interpretations. So read it – in case you haven’t done it so far. Or re-read it again: it is just 60 pages, and at least for me one of the most unforgettable literary works ever.

Do not expect a longer review here:  “I would rather prefer not to”, as Bartleby used to say…Just read it!

Herman Melville: Bartleby the Scrivener, Hesperus Press (and many other editions)


© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

4 thoughts on ““I would prefer not to”

  1. Caroline

    I read it not too long ago, almost as at the same time with Max from Pechorin’s Journal, I think.
    I was an expecting the tale it was but since then I’ve noticed how often people make allusions to the famous sentence. I’m still not couragous enough to tackle Moby Dick.

    1. admin Post author

      I managed to read the complete Moby Dick only after two aborted attempts. It’s not because it is not a great book, or somehow boring – no, in the contrary I found it indeed a fascinating read. But it is quite challenging for a reader, you have to stay focused over a quite long period, otherwise you will go completely astray. Once you finished it you will realize that is was well worth the effort.

  2. Christopher

    Hmmm, you should really have someone check your blog before you publish it here…there are many many errors which even students at English 101 level do not make. For anyone literary-read enough, those mistakes detract from your work and meke one less apt to regard your writing as anything other than childish.

    1. admin Post author

      Thank you for your elaborate and thoughtful remarks on “Bartleby the Scrivener” and my blog in general.

      (Irony “OFF”)

      Christopher, when I first saw your posting, I thought that “I would rather prefer not” to publish and comment it. But I changed my mind for a reason.

      Since it has obviously dropped your attention, Christopher: this blog is meant as a forum for friendly and respectful communication between me and my friends and other people who share our interest in literature. It is not a place where people usually insult each other, and it is not a place where arrogant and obnoxious trolls and tossers are held in high esteem.

      Neither have I ever claimed that English is my native language, nor that I am perfect in it. Constructive criticism is always welcome, also offers for proof-reading.

      What else can I say? We all make a fool of ourselves sometimes, Christopher – me by publishing a literary blog in a language other than my native tongue – you by showing a remarkable narrow-mindedness and arrogance by calling my writing “childish”, while you are displaying at the same time that you are not able to write two simple sentences in your native language without mistakes. I leave it gladly to the other readers of this blog to decide who is the childish person here.

      And Christopher, my excuse for writing my blog in English is that it is the language I use mostly for the communication with my friends, also mostly not native speakers. If I would follow your line of thinking, I would have to stop to communicate with them at all. I hope even someone as dense as you will understand that THAT would be indeed childish.

      So Christopher, what is your excuse for being the pompous, arrogant, self-righteous and obnoxious person that you seem to be when I judge you from your comment and the short communication we had afterwards and which you used exclusively to hurl insane abuse at me for no reason at all?

      Ok, I see, you were just trolling. Fine. Enjoy and move on, Christopher. This blog is for decent and intelligent people, not for frustrated individuals like you who think very highly of themselves but whose main achievement in life seems to be that you are sitting on the sideline of blogs and public forums, ready to jump in with snide remarks, but who are never able to contribute anything valuable or constructive to a discussion.

      But maybe you should have someone check your writing in the future first before you submit it. You would look less childish. Just a little bit.

      Or even better: get a life, loser!


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