Bartleby and Benito Cereno ~ Paperback ~ Herman Melville


Two memorable and stirring works-first written as magazine pieces and later published in The Piazza Tales. "Bartleby," (also called "Bartleby the Scrivener") is a haunting moral allegory set in the business world of 19th-century New York. "Benito Cereno," a harrowing tale of slavery and revolt aboard a Spanish ship, is regarded by many as Melville's finest short story. While the tales of Bartleby and Benito Cereno are very different, they share something (besides authorship) in common: both are deep and acute penetrations into the human psyche. In "Benito Cereno," Melville told his story through Captain Delano. Readers, who "know" only what Delano knows, soon find themselves sharing his confusion and amazement at the strange facts he observes, not to mention his vacillations, speculations and changes of opinion about the disconcerting behavior of Captain Benito Cereno. "Bartleby the scrivener" follows a technique similar to that of "Benito Cereno," but within a very different context and plot. Narrated by a good-hearted and charitable Wall Street lawyer who hires a young and silent man as a copyist (that is, before Xerox, the guy who made manual copies of legal documents), Bartleby sets to do his work, copying page after page, but he refuses to do anything else, with the words: "I would rather not" as an answer to every order, instruction or request to do something. Tenaciously, Bartleby resists any action. It's a pathological portrait of indifference and apathy, taken to the extreme. As in "Benito Cereno," readers receive no additional explanations or background to his behavior and find themselves, like Bartleby's boss, confounded. Melville invites us to witness a unique unique form of behavior and attitude towards life, as the fascinating narration jumps transitions from drama to humor with the fluidity and fine irony of a master wordsmith. Haunting and intriguing, ""Bartleby the Scrivener" is a masterpiece of storytelling.Author BiographyHerman Melville (1819 -1891) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and the posthumous novella Billy Budd. His first three books gained much contemporary attention (the first, Typee, becoming a bestseller), but after a fast-blooming literary success in the late 1840s, his popularity declined precipitously in the mid-1850s and never recovered during his lifetime. When he died in 1891, he was almost completely forgotten. It was not until the "Melville Revival" in the early 20th century that his work won recognition, especially Moby-Dick which was hailed as one of the literary masterpieces of both American and world literature. He was the first writer to have his works collected and published by the Library of America.

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