June 28, 2013

Bartleby and Benito Cereno by Herman Melville

For the fourth week of The Fiction of Relationship course we had 2 short stories by Herman Melville: the well-known "Bartleby" and "Benito Cereno". Short stories call for short reviews, and that's what I'm going to do :)

Title: Bartleby, the Scrivener
Author: Herman Melville
First published: 1853
Add it: Goodreads, The Book Depository

This story just blew my head off. It doesn't have a closure, it doesn't have complicated multidimensional characters, and the plot is not realistic at all. However, it is full of meaning, conveyed mostly in form instead of content. This polite protest - "I would prefer not to" - is much more powerful than any demonstration. It shows the shallowness of defining a person according to his job and of making a job the only important thing in one's life. The overall craziness of the office setting adds to the surrealism of the story, and in the computer-infested, career-oriented life of nowadays "Bartleby" is as relevant as ever.

Title: Benito Cereno
Author: Herman Melville
First published: 1855
Add it: GoodreadsThe Book Depository

This novella reminds me a lot of Poe's stories: there is mystery and delusion, there is sea and this characteristic feeling of uneasiness building towards the revelation of the truth. Too bad that I figured out what's happening there too early, and the rest of the book I was just impatient with the reflexive, intricate, "Melvillish" writing. The book is great in terms of psychology, but I'd appreciate it being three times shorter anyway :) Especially as it definitely requires re-reading after you know the truth in order to see all the hints from the beginning.


  1. You know, I really enjoyed Bartleby for being so enigmatic, etc. However, I loathed Moby Dick so I've avoided Melville, preferring not to have my bubble burst any further. I really wanted to love everything he wrote. Just never going to happen.

    1. I actually really liked Moby Dick, and I hadn't expected to. Bartleby is on the same level of awesomeness, but it has the advantage of being short :)

    2. I also adored Moby Dick, and didn't expect to. I liked Bartleby, but not quite as much as Moby Dick. I've got Benito Cereno and White Jacket on my shelves at home, but haven't been in the mood to pick either one up. I think I'm afraid I won't love them as much as MD! :)


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