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Bartleby and Benito Cereno

3.79  ·  Rating Details ·  1,735 Ratings  ·  115 Reviews
Herman Melville towers among American writers not only for his powerful novels, but also for the stirring novellas and short stories that flowed from his pen. Two of the most admired of these — "Bartleby" and "Benito Cereno" — first appeared as magazine pieces and were then published in 1856 as part of a collection of short stories entitled The Piazza Tales.
"Bartleby" (als
Paperback, 112 pages
Published July 1st 1990 by Dover Publications (first published 1855)
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Jun 16, 2013 Dolors rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: the ones who fight back
Recommended to Dolors by: the voices
Shelves: read-in-2013
To a sensitive being, pity is not seldom pain. And when at last it is perceived that such pity cannot lead to effectual succor, common sense bids the soul be rid of it. Bartleby, the Scrivener

Life glues us together in ways we can’t anticipate, obliging us to broaden our individual frames of reference in order to imagine the other, overcoming our self-centered blindness.
That inevitable interconnectedness is most plausible in Melville’s most enduring and intriguing short novellas Bartleby, the S
N.T. Embe
Oct 15, 2011 N.T. Embe rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Those who enjoy tales morbidly dense and difficult to get through.
Recommended to N.T. by: American Literature of the 19th Century (Class)
Shelves: education
This book, with its two stories, Bartleby and Benito Cereno, is not what I expected. What a dense read! For a book just barely making it over the 100-page mark, it took me forever to will myself through it! Look at the difference between the start date and the finish for this one! Every time I picked it up I felt like I was being forced to swallow lead, or to walk a mile in a pool of TAR. I felt like I was getting nowhere, anywhere, and fast. And, to my frustrated and wry surprise, I got exactly ...more
Jul 27, 2015 Peter rated it really liked it
My Summer of Melville continues...

This is the third or fourth time I've read Bartleby, and it's as wonderful as ever. One of my very favorite short stories. The maddening stubborness of Bartleby, the well-meaning helplessness of the narrator, and the heartbreaking conclusion just never get old for me.

I had some reservations approaching Benito Cereno for the first time, having struggled for seven weeks to get through Moby-Dick. (A rewarding experience, but one I really don't care to repeat.) The
Poet Gentleness
Jul 22, 2013 Poet Gentleness rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Poet Gentleness by: Brown University
Shelves: classics, beauties
I absolutely loved reading Bartleby. I haven't had the opportunity of reading Melville's novels before and I was greatly impressed by his work.
I cannot do this review without spoiling quite completely the story. So, be warned! ;)
(view spoiler)
Jun 29, 2013 Travis rated it liked it
These to stories challenge the traditional and fixed definitions of good and evil.

Benito Cereno and Babo are enslaved to their roles and cannot escape them. Which characters are moral? Can anything about a slave revolt at sea be moral? Violence only leads to more violence. It is difficult to tell whether Melville is making a statement about the injustice of slavery, or if he is portraying a cruel and unjustified rebellion.

It is hard to view the slaves’ cruel and bloody mutiny as just; yet their
Jan 24, 2010 Sarah rated it it was ok
What's sad is these stories have so much potential. The points they make could be really powerful, IF they were better developed. Both stories, in my opinion, were not very well written or structured. In English class, we painfully overanalyzed Melville's frequent use of double negatives in Benito Cereno, but we didn't even take into account that he used a ton of them in Bartleby too! How do we know that they aren't not un-a-part of his writing style? And, would it kill the guy to use a few more ...more
Ryan aka Madman Reads
Apr 06, 2016 Ryan aka Madman Reads rated it really liked it
I can totally relate to Bartleby. Most office jobs suck.
Jun 27, 2016 1.1 rated it really liked it
Bartleby is a profound classic and also a lighthearted lark, so I suppose it makes sense to place it in juxtaposition to Benito Cereno, which is far more serious and dark in tone.

I will never dislike reading Bartleby since it is simply a very amusing and spirited story – Melville clearly enjoyed writing it and winks at the reader throughout. I sped through, and discovered a new appreciation for it I hadn't had nine years ago - very rewarding, very playful, and not a little poignant as well.

Oct 23, 2015 Russell rated it liked it
I'm not sure how best to enter this since the book I read was two short stories. If they were thematically linked... I guess it was more or less lost on me.

Of the two I found Bartleby to be the more difficult read. Difficult in the sense that it didn't grab my attention. In both stories I feel like I only barely scratched the surface in my initial readings.

I'm not really sure what to make of Bartleby and his steadfast preferring not to. The narrator and his cast of variously incapable assistant
Mr. Bauer
Sep 15, 2009 Mr. Bauer rated it liked it
Benito Cereno is great. I love the suspense, anticipation, and the way Melville conveys his statements about society very subtly.

Bartleby the Scrivener is rather strange. Again, Melville is certainly making a statement about society, particularly the new economic situation in America as it became more industrialized and capitalistic. I actually read this in college and had to analyze it from the point of view of each of the major schools of literary theory. Not fun!
Dec 28, 2015 Syd rated it liked it
I was so excited to read this, but God, it was tedious. I haven't read anything else by Melville, but I'm not going to go anywhere near Moby Dick after this. At least in these stories, Melville has an unbearable tendency to draw out the plot's buildup for the first 95% of the story, slip the resolution in in half a page, and then spend the last bit of the story with the characters morosely reflecting on how there was no actual resolution. I don't like action-packed stories, and I enjoy stories w ...more
Peter Dunn
Aug 19, 2014 Peter Dunn rated it it was amazing
Benito Cereno is in itself an interesting tale of an unusual rebellion on a slave ship, and it is made all intriguing by being closely based on the story of a real slave rebellion aboard a Spanish merchant ship over 50 years earlier in 1799. However it is Herman Melville’s almost Kafkaesque but infuriatingly funny tale of Bartleby The Scrivener that shines brightest in this duo of Melville stories. This tale deserves be as well-known as that other Melville story about a whale fixation.
I could s
Aug 26, 2014 Allison rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Melville fans
Recommended to Allison by: Suzanne Cadwell
I didn't read both of the novellas contained in this book. I read Benito Cereno. It was good in the way I find all of Melville's works to be good. He uses a large vocabulary with many word which are rarely or no longer used in the 21st century. That is a quality I admire in his work. However, as with other larger works of his, I felt like he could have used about half as many words to communicate the same story more clearly. And, yet, that was the style of prose in his time so I suppose it is po ...more
David Freeman
Jan 08, 2010 David Freeman rated it it was amazing
i prefer not to
Nov 30, 2014 Kristi rated it liked it
Melville and I have a complicated relationship. He was undoubted brilliant and a great writer. His work is much deeper, and more complex and nuanced than it often appears on the surface of a first reading. The enjoyment of reading Melville is for me personally in the subsequent analysis of it. The reading of it, however, (for me) feels like slow and deliberate torture. I often beg and plead for him to get the point. Sometimes it seems he goes on and on saying the same thing, or mundane details t ...more
Feb 16, 2014 Bap rated it it was amazing
I first read Benito Cereno in college. This novella based on a true event can be read on several different levels. It can be seen as a naive American captain coming upon a Spanish ship in a state of distress carrying a cargo of slaves. On one level, it is a desperate and ruthless group of slaves who have revolted and taken the ship, attempting to deceive the American captain. On another level, the slaves are freedom fighters seeking to get provisions in order to sail back to Senegal and freedom. ...more
Of the two stories in this novel, I only read Benito Cereno. At first I felt like I couldn't understand anything. Every sentence was roundabout and convoluted, full of commas and phrases that could have been arranged in a much more straight-forward way. The turns of the phrases just seemed so awkward, and I just couldn't get used to Melville's writing style. I kept thinking to myself, why does Melville keep making me wait until the end of the sentence to figure out the point of it?

The more I tho
Joel Ortiz-Quintanilla
Sep 22, 2012 Joel Ortiz-Quintanilla rated it it was amazing
The first short story in this collection is a very great tale. It is the tale of Barleby, the scrivener. Its a tale, or an allegory, i don't know which, but a story of a business man who hires this scrivener, a copyist, who is good at his job, but one day decides the doesn't want to do the job anymore. Then the words come out, 'I'd prefer not to...' which is wonderful. I would have loved to tell some of my bosses i'd prefer not to, when they told me to do something. I would have been fired, i th ...more
Mark Samuel
Mar 28, 2011 Mark Samuel rated it really liked it
Review of Bartleby only:

I love this story. The inescapable logic of Bartleby's anti-social "preferences" is quite profound. A great deal of the story is missed if the reader merely has pity on Bartleby or dismisses his decisions as wrong-headed. Unless the reader asks the question, "Why precisely are Bartelby's decisions bad ones?" a wonderful oportunity for introspection on one's own pre-suppositions about the purpose of existence will be lost. In my view, Bartleby is the logical conclusion to
Oct 26, 2012 Helen rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Adults
Amazing volume of two Melville novellas! You will not be disappointed - Bartleby, an "absurdist" tale of a clerk who refuses to work or leave the premises, as seen through the "hyper-correct" eyes of his employer. Details take you right in to the world of 19th C commercial NYC - you can practically hear the quill pens scratching away on paper! Finely wrought, "humorous" (in its own way) story of NY - definitely recommend. Cereno is a much darker tale - actually, much, much darker. Not to give aw ...more
Feb 13, 2016 Valerie marked it as d-n-f
Shelves: classics, borrowed
I'd probably try finishing this book by reading one page a day if I didn't have to return it to its owner soon, but since I do have to return it soon I can't make myself finish it.

I read Bartleby in its entirety and a couple of pages of Benito Cereno but overall, it was tedious. The paragraphs are way too long and confusing with so many commas and no pauses.

Not my kind of book. Although I believe Bartleby could be used in psychology to discuss depression.
Jul 25, 2014 E.W. rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
It seems like I read Bartleby in college, though, having read it now, I have no memory of having done so. It is a fascinating story, and I'll return to it again.

I picked up this copy, to read 'Benito Cereno,' after recently reading someone else talking about it. Perhaps my expectations got in the way, but I found it far too dry. As someone that thoroughly enjoyed 'Moby Dick', I was hoping that this might be equally engaging. It was not.
Sep 21, 2014 Beatrice rated it liked it
Bartleby, in particular, was a very interesting short story to me. Following an unidentified narrator who first seeks to emulate this peculiar Bartleby character, the story shifts quickly when he finds Bartleby is passive and unresponsive. A new burden upon his life, the man will not leave him, nor will he interact with him. A consideration of moral philosophy, guilt, and self-interest, this short story addresses many themes in its short length.
Apr 09, 2014 Dylan rated it it was ok
Collection of two very different Melville stories. The first, Bartleby, is somewhat frustratingly open-ended. It's the sort of story high school English teachers love (and most students probably hate) - ornate language, philosophical allusions, and symbolism to which any number of meanings might reasonably be ascribed. All that from one of the giants of American literature! Should fit nicely into any syllabus. I liked it a lot, almost entirely because it was funny. Benito Cereno I liked less. Th ...more
Ashley Adams
Jan 17, 2015 Ashley Adams rated it really liked it
Shelves: horror
Very spooky! "Bartleby" is one of my all time favorite zombie-ghost stories, especially after spending some time in the workforce. Melville is master of the ambiguous line between appearance and reality, and his stories are well crafted throughout.
Haley Baker
Dec 03, 2013 Haley Baker rated it liked it
Behind the complex analysis of how Americans choose ignorance over accountability, Herman Melville tells a story about Amaso Delano who is a slave owner on a slave ship undergoing a slave revolt. The catch of the novel is that Delano does not know that the slave revolt is happening. The story can be depicted a three fold analysis; Delano doesn't know what's occurring on the ship, he won't ever see what's happening because he chooses ignorance, and lastly, he can't see what's going on because he ...more
Feb 14, 2014 Teri rated it really liked it
Back to the classics for a bit. What colorful language. I had forgotten. I guess we need a classic fix every now and again. Thanks to Greg Holt for the opportunity. Truly enjoyed Benito Cereno but found Bartlby rather pointless.
Jul 17, 2016 Doug rated it really liked it
Warning: paragraph long sentences and commas everywhere!
But, Bartleby and Benito Cereno are two excellent short stories, nonetheless.
So glad to have read these now. The latter is interesting and a bit relevant considering the goings on with Black Lives Matter recently.
And Bartleby, he is an endearing enigma. These stories are deep and character driven. Recommended, if you can look past the old school writing style.
Andy Lee
Dec 20, 2007 Andy Lee rated it it was amazing
Benito Cereno was the book that made me realize that I was a good reader. This novella is a precursor to the modern day whodunit. I don't know what made me read so closely, but I guess Melville commands that in his prose.

Here, Melville proves that he is a master with words. There are no superfluous words. Each description is placed perfectly with a purpose. I tackled Moby Dick after reading Benito and Bartleby, and found Moby Dick to be overly dense and not entirely engaging.

I don't want to spoi
I must say I don't really like Audio books but it is still good listening to them while you're doing smth. Moreover this one has been lying on the shelf for too long

Benito Cereno - 3/5 - well, it was Ok, but I expected smth more from Melville
Bartleby - 3/5
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Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. His first two books gained much attention, though they were not bestsellers, and his popularity declined precipitously only a few years later. By the time of his death he had been almost completely forgotten, but his longest novel, Moby-Dick — largely considered a failure during his lifetime, and most responsible for ...more
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