Bartleby the Scrivener is a short story by the American writer Herman Melville, first serialized anonymously in two parts in the November and December 1853 issues of Putnam’s Magazine and reprinted with minor textual alterations in his The Piazza Tales in 1856. In the story, a Wall Street lawyer hires a new clerk who, after an initial bout of hard work, refuses to make copies or do any other task required of him, refusing with the words “I would prefer not to.”
Numerous critical essays have been published about the story, which scholar Robert Milder describes as “unquestionably the masterpiece of the short fiction” in the Melville canon.
The narrator is an unnamed elderly lawyer who works with legal documents and has an office on Wall Street in New York. He already employs two scriveners, Turkey and Nippers, to copy documents by hand, but an increase in business leads him to advertise for a third. He hires the forlorn-looking Bartleby in the hope that his calmness will soothe the other two, each of whom displays an irascible temperament during an opposite half of the day. An office boy nicknamed Ginger Nut completes the staff.