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BOOK REVIEW – HERMANN MELVILLE – BARTLEBY Various collections and short story anthologies.

 

A surprisingly short, and rather sad existential tale by the author of the famous epic heavy reading tome, Moby Dick. Bartleby is about a well presented, respectable young man who applies for and gets given a city job with a leading clerical office. Given the job, it soon becomes apparent to the benevolent employer, who narrates the story, that Bartleby does virtually no work at all. He just sits at his desk contentedly staring ahead of himself.


After repeated warnings that he really has to do something to earn the right to continue work the highly tolerant boss is left with no option but to dismiss Bartleby, which he does with considerable regret, but the message does not sink in, and Bartleby continues to turn up for work every day until he is forced to leave, and locks are changed to keep him out.

 

The boss now finds that Bartleby comes to the offices and stands outside, as close as he can get to where he was once given a position.  When the firm relocate, Bartleby still goes to the old address every day, standing outside the empty property. The former employer gets the poor man much needed psychiatric help, and Bartleby is locked away in an asylum, where he stands at the corner closest to the offices that once employed him, fixated on that point in space until his death. 

 

It’s a startling story of obsession, and compulsive behaviour. Bartleby’s reasoning is never explained. He has just found himself comfortable and tries desperately to preserve the moment. It is a story worthy of Kafka, Sartre or Pinter.  The caring boss is a terrific character too in a world where most would have been far quicker in dismissing Bartleby from the work force.

 

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