Melville’s syntax has always baffled me. And for the first few pages of ‘Bartleby’ I’m always telling myself off for ever recommending this story. Then the sentences arrange themselves into focus. The characters Turkey, Nippers, and Ginger Nut arrive on the scene. And I wish, hope, that this time Bartleby is going to make it through.
A few errant thoughts — should we read Bartleby’s line “I would prefer not to” as a catchphrase? Or that ‘Bartleby’ is possibly Melville’s attempt at breaking into TV with a pilot about dysfunctional law clerks?
First published in Putnam’s Magazine, November-December 1853, and collected in The Piazza Tales, Dix & Edwards, 1856. Now widely available, including in Billy Budd, Bartleby, and Other Stories, Penguin Classics. Available online at Project Gutenberg