5 February 2017 | robertguttman
Doesn't really translate well into the present day.
Bartleby is one of my favorite Melville stories. However, like a lot of 19th century stories, it really does not translate well into a present-day setting. First of all, the office in which Bartleby worked in the story was nothing like the light, airy, spacious and colorful workplace depicted in this film. Nor, needless to say, were there any female characters, as depicted in the film, present to brighten up the office atmosphere. In the story Bartleby worked in an office of, by today's standards, almost inconceivable dreariness, provided with only one window, and that opening onto an air shaft. In addition there was the question of Bartleby's occupation, one which does not even exist today. As the title of the story indicated, Bartleby was a 'scrivener". That meant that Bartleby was employed in a law office to copy legal documents. In other words, Bartleby was nothing more than a living Xerox Machine. The reader must bear in mind that Melville wrote this story in the mid 1800s, long before the introduction of carbon paper or even of typewriters, let alone telephones, copy machines and computers. The only tools of the trade required by a scrivener were a quill with which to write, a penknife with which to sharpen it and a bottle of ink.
In addition, as can be imagined, the people who performed that sort of work in those long-gone days were paid the merest pittance, barely enough upon which to subsist. Small wonder Bartleby took to living in the office, he probably couldn't afford to live anywhere else. Thereby one comes to the biggest flaw in the movie. Today, a character like Bartleby simply wouldn't be treated in the way in which he would have been treated during the mid 19th century. Under similar circumstances today, the employer would call the police, who would then take Bartleby way for psychiatric observation, after which he would either be put on suitable medication or committed for further psychiatric treatment. That, of course, would not have occurred in the mid 19th century, nor does it occur in the original story. One cannot watch the film version without feeling that the story simply doesn't ring true, that the story simply wound't play out the way ti does. And, of course, one would be correct, because this is essentially a 19th century story played out in a modern setting, one in which it simply doesn't quite fit. It bothers one much the same way as seeing a Wagnerian Opera in which mythical Gods and heroes are depicted wearing business suits and ties. One cannot escape the uneasy feeling that, while it all may be very fashionable, it simply doesn't fit.