Lawyers and Literature
The Mystery of a Man's Life
Bartleby, the Scrivener
Class Presentation: Bartleby the Scrivener (A Story of
Wall Street) by Herman Melville, Existentialist [audiobook]
[class presentation at 3:08 mins.]
The lawyer narrator describes himself as an eminently safe man.
During the turmoil with Bartleby, the narrator remarks that "for the first time in my life a feeling of over-powering stinging melancholy seized me." What does this tell us about the narrator?
How does the narrator's life change as a result of his encounter with Bartleby?
How does the narrator's profession affect your reading of the story? How does the fact that the narrator is a lawyer affect his relationship with Bartleby?
How do you explain the narrator's relation to Bartleby?
What part do Bartleby's fellow employees at the law office play in the story?
How is the reader to understand Bartleby's odd behavior?
Some questions about the story:
Would you recommend this story to fellow law students? If so, how would you justify that recommendation?
"Bartleby, the Scrivener" was published serially and anonymously, in consecutive issues of Putnam's Monthly magazine in November and December 1853. Digital facsimile of " Bartleby, the Scrivener," Putnam's Monthly text is available online: [Part I] [Part II]. "Bartleby, the Scrivener" was republished in 1856 as one of The Piazza Tales, under Melville's name, with the abbreviated title "Bartleby."
"Bartleby, the Scrivner" has been the subject of a substantial body of scholarly commentary. See e.g.: Daniel Stempel & Bruce M. Stillians, Bartleby the Scrivener: A Parable of Pessimism, 27 (3) Nineteenth-Century Fiction 268 (1972); Johannes Dietrich Bergmann, "Bartleby" and The Lawyer's Story, 47 Amer. Lit. 432 (1975); Steven Doloff, The Prudent Samaritan: Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" as Parody of Christ's Parable to the Lawyer, 34 (3) Stud. Short Fiction 357 (1997); Richard R. John, The Lost World of Bartleby, the Ex-Officeholder: Variations on a Venerable Literary Form, 70 New England Quart. 631 (1997); Andre Furlani, Bartleby the Socratic, 34 (3) Studies in Short Fiction 335-355 (1997); Thomas Dilworth, Narrator of "Bartleby": The Christian-Humanist Acquaintance of John Jacob Astor, 38 (1) Papers on Language & Literature 49 (2002).
For a collection of essays on the novella, see: M Thomas Inge (ed.), Bartleby the Inscrutable: A Collection of Commentary on Herman Melville's Tale "Bartleby the Scrivener" (Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1979).
For a socio-political reading of "Bartleby" by a legal scholar, see Robin West, Invisible Victims: A Comparison of Susan Glaspell's Jury of Her Peers and Herman Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener, 8 Cardozo Stud. in L. & Lit. 203 (1996) [online text] [See also, Carrie Menkel-Meadow, The Sense and Sensibilities of Lawyers: Lawyering in Literature, Narratives, Film and Television, and Ethical Choices Regarding Career and Craft, 31 McGeorge L. Rev. 1, 7-11 (1999)]
"I'm not saying . . . the story solves anything. Great literature, I think, does not offer solutions or answers, though it may yield considerable illumination of our problems; it is like art which Picasso had in mind when he once said that art is a lie that tells the truth." [Merton M. Sealts, Herman Melville's "Bartleby" 15 (Madison: Wisconsin Humanities Committee, 1982)] Compare the Sealts comment with the commentary in a letter from the Wisconsin Humanities Committee which sponsored, in 1982, a seminar on Bartleby attended by 100 lawyers from around Wisconsin. Patricia C. Anderson, on behalf of the Committee, offered the following description of the day's discussion: "Among the recurring topics were questions about how lawyers perceive and act on their responsibilities as professionals and as human beings to provide care; the limitations of the legal system--or any system imposed upon human nature; what happens when a lawyer is dealing with a client who cannot or will not make what are called 'rational decisions'; how a lawyer can balance the demands of professional standards with the 'demands of the spirit' . . . . " [Letter to interested persons, from Patricia C. Anderson, Wisconsin Humanities Committee, October, 1982]
Bartleby has been adapted to film, "Bartleby" (2001)(directed by Jonathan Parker).
Finally, we might note that still another Melville story, Billy Budd, has established itself as a "law and literature" classic. [Billy Budd--an interactive edition] [Billy Budd--the film] [Billy Budd--Wikipedia]
Roberta Bienvenu, Shenandoah
Bartleby the Scrivener
Essays & Scholarly Articles
Being as Refusal: Melvilles Bartleby as Anti-Hero
A Panorama of “Bartleby, the Scrivener”
Refusal in “Bartleby, the Scrivener”: Narrative Ethics and Conscientious Objection
Bartleby, Labor and Law
Invisible Victims: A Comparison of Melville's Bartleby the Scrivener and Glaspell's a Jury of Her Peers
The Learned-Helpless Lawyer: Clinical Legal Education and Therapeutic
From Scriveners to Typewriters: Document Production in the Nineteenth-Century Law Office
The Specter of Wall Street: "Bartleby, the Scrivener" and the Language of Commodities
From Wall Street to Astor Place: Historicizing Melville's "Bartleby"
Bartleby or a Loose Existence: Melville with Jonathan Edwards
or The Formula
Bartleby, the Subversive
A Discussion of "Bartleby, the Scrivener"
talks about "Bartleby, the Scrivener"
Confidence Man: His Masquerade