Bartleby the Scrivener

Adaptations and references


  • The story was adapted for the radio anthology series Favorite Story in 1948 under the name "The Strange Mister Bartleby." William Conrad plays the Narrator and Hans Conried plays Bartleby.
  • In a BBC radio adaptation from 1953, Laurence Olivier plays the narrator. This was produced as an episode of "Theatre Royal", a series of radio dramas, which was the only radio series in which Lord Olivier took a major role.
  • The York Playhouse produced a one-act opera, Bartleby, composed by William Flanagan and James J. Hinton, Jr. with a libretto by Edward Albee, from January 1 to February 28, 1961.[22]
  • The first filmed adaptation was by the Encyclopædia Britannica Educational Corporation in 1969. It was adapted, produced & directed by Larry Yust and starred James Westerfield and Patrick Campbell, with Barry Williams of The Brady Bunch fame in a small role.[23] The story has been adapted for film four other times: in 1970, starring Paul Scofield; in France, in 1976, by Maurice Ronet, starring Michel Lonsdale; in 1977, by Israel Horovitz and Michael B Styer for Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting, starring Nicholas Kepros, which was an entry in the 1978 Peabody Awards competition for television; and in 2001, as Bartleby, by Jonathan Parker, starring Crispin Glover and David Paymer.
  • The story was adapted and reinterpreted by Peter Straub in his 1997 story "Mr. Clubb and Mr. Cuff." It was also used as thematic inspiration for the Stephen King novel Bag of Bones.
  • The BBC Radio 4 adaptation dramatised by Martyn Wade, directed by Cherry Cookson, and broadcast in 2004 stars Adrian Scarborough as Bartleby, Ian Holm as the Lawyer, David Collings as Turkey, and Jonathan Keeble as Nippers.[24]
  • The story was adapted for the stage in March 2007 by Alexander Gelman and the Organic Theater Company of Chicago.
  • In 2009, French author Daniel Pennac read the story on the stage of La Pépinière-Théâtre in Paris.[25]
  • Bartleby, The Scrivener, an opera in two acts, with music by Daniel Steven Crafts and libretto by Erik Bauersfeld.

References to the story


  • Bartleby: La formula della creazione (1993) by Giorgio Agamben and Bartleby, ou la formule by Gilles Deleuze are two important philosophical essays reconsidering many of Melville's ideas.
  • In Chapter 12 of the 1992 novel Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, Arthur Dent decides to move to Bartledan, whose population does not need or want anything. Reading a novel of Bartledanian literature, he is bewildered to find that the protagonist of the novel unexpectedly dies of thirst just before the last chapter. Arthur is bewildered by other actions of the Bartledans, but "He preferred not to think about it." (page 78). He notes that "nobody in Bartledanian stories ever wanted anything."
  • In 2001, Spanish writer Enrique Vila-Matas wrote Bartleby & Co., a book which deals with "the endemic disease of contemporary letters, the negative pulsion or attraction towards nothingness."
  • In her 2016 book My Private Property, Mary Ruefle's story "Take Frank" features a high school boy assigned to read Melville's Bartleby. The boy unwittingly mimics Bartleby when he declares he would "prefer not to."
  • In his 2017 book Everybody Lies: big data, new data, and what the Internet can tell us about who we really are, Seth Stephens-Davidowits mentions that one-third of horses bred to be racehorses never, in fact, race. They simply "prefer not to," the author explains, as he draws an allusion to Melville's story.
  • In her 2019 book How to Do Nothing, Jenny Odell references Bartleby as an example of resisting the demands of capitalism, and cultivating an ethic of refusal.
  • In his 2018 book "Hiking With Nietzsche: Becoming Who You Are", John Kaag references the Bartleby story as a consideration of the Nietzschean possibility that freedom is realised in a self-destructive refusal to submit.
  • In "Farrington the Scrivener: A Story of Dame Street," Morris Beja compares "Bartleby, the Scrivener" with "Counterparts", a story in Dubliners, by James Joyce. The essay is published in Coping With Joyce: Essays from the Copenhagen Symposium, edited by Morris Beja and Shari Benstock (Ohio State University Press, 1989), pp. 111-122.

Film and television

  • There is an angel named Bartleby in Kevin Smith's 1999 film Dogma. He shares some resemblance to Melville's character.
  • The 2006 movie Accepted features a character named Bartleby Gaines, played by Justin Long. The characters share similar traits, and the movie uses some themes found in the work.
  • In 2011, French director Jérémie Carboni made the documentary Bartleby en coulisses around Daniel Pennac's reading of "Bartleby the Scrivener".[26]
  • In "Skorpio", the sixth episode of the first season of the television show Archer, Archer quotes Bartleby, and then makes reference to Melville's being "not an easy read."
  • In the season 1 episode of Ozark titled "Kaleidoscope", Marty explains to his wife Wendy that, if Del asks him to work for the drug cartel, he will respond as Bartleby would: "I'll give him my best Bartleby impersonation, and I'll say, 'I prefer not to'."
  • A story arc from the sixth season of the American anime-style web series RWBY, revolving around a species of monsters named "The Apathy", is partially adapted from the story. A central, unseen character in the arc is named Bartleby as a nod to the title character.
  • Bartleby is mentioned in an episode of HBO's In Treatment (season 3, episode 8).


  • The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek regularly quotes Bartleby's iconic line, usually in the context of the Occupy Wall Street movement.[27]
  • The electronic text archive is named after the character. The website's welcome statement describes its correlation with the short story, "so,—after the humble character of its namesake scrivener, or copyist—publishes the classics of literature, nonfiction, and reference free of charge."[28]
  • The British newspaper magazine The Economist maintains a column focused on the areas of work and management said to be "in the spirit" of Bartleby, the Scrivener.
  • The 92nd Street Y presented a livestreamed and on-demand reading of the story by actor Paul Giamatti in November 2020. A December 3, 2020 conversation between Giamatti and Andrew Delbanco is archived on YouTube. [29]

This content is from Wikipedia. GradeSaver is providing this content as a courtesy until we can offer a professionally written study guide by one of our staff editors. We do not consider this content professional or citable. Please use your discretion when relying on it.