I mentioned a few weeks ago my fondness for Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-Street, which first appeared in Putnam’s Magazine in two parts — the first in November 1853 and the conclusion in December 1853. Although first published anonymously, it was then reprinted in Melville’s The Piazza Tales in 1856 with a few minor changes.
Set in the mid-19th century on Wall Street, Bartleby tells the story of a young scrivener (a professional copyist/scribe) caught up in the rat race of commerce finally saying “I would prefer not to.”
It is said to be one of the first significant pieces of literature to give voice to the dehumanizing aspects of the modern industrial compartmentalized workplace.
Personally, I enjoy Bartleby for its humor and tragedy.
I read it again last night on bartleby.com and — as I have for weeks on end after each time I re-read this classic — I again find myself saying “I would prefer not to” all the time. :)