I’m glad I read the Melville House “Art of the Novella” edition of this book: the “Illuminations” at the end of the book added some much-needed context, as it’s been a while since I studied transcendentalism in school. Having both “The Transcendentalist” and “Civil Disobedience” included with Bartleby the Scrivener felt really useful in terms of placing this novella in its American political/philosophical/literary moment.

As for the novella itself, before reading it I had known Bartleby’s catch-phrase of “I would prefer not to”, but I didn’t know much more than that and wasn’t really expecting the book’s mix of humor and pathos. I like the NYC atmosphere Melville evokes: I can picture the area around Trinity Church quite well because my office is very close to there: I’ve walked along Wall Street from Broadway at lunch breaks or after work, and I liked imagining those streets in centuries past as I read.

(Relevant quote from Emerson: “Unless the action is necessary, unless it is adequate, I do not wish to perform it.” And from Thoreau: “I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest.”)

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