A motionless young man one morning stood upon my office threshold. I can see that figure now—pallidly neat, pitiably respectable, incurably forlorn! It was Bartleby.
In a special audio recording commissioned by 92Y’s Unterberg Poetry Center, Paul Giamatti reads Bartleby, the Scrivener, Herman Melville’s tragi-comic tale of a Wall Street lawyer’s attempts to make sense of his clerk’s refusal to work.
The recorded reading is available for streaming upon purchase.
Giamatti recorded the reading while sheltering in place last summer. “It’s one of my favorite short stories by one of my favorite writers, so I was particularly gratified to be able to read it out loud. I’ve always wanted to,” he said. “It’s a wonderful story. It’s a very strange, very sad story. But also funny—I think it’s very funny.”
Bartleby’s polite but ever-perplexing defiance of his boss—his famous “I would prefer not to”—marks him as one of the most elusive and indelible characters in all of literature. “The radical voice in Melville says, ‘Save him, succor him, embrace him as a child of God,’” Delbanco has written. “While the conservative voice says, ‘What more can I do for him?’ In Bartleby, these two voices speak as they do in life—simultaneously.”
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