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.
  • BBC radio adaptation in 1953. Laurence Olivier plays the narrator, in this adaptation of "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street". Produced for the series of radio dramas "Theatre Royal", first broadcast by the BBC in 1953 and in the USA, 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., on a libretto by Edward Albee, from January 1, 1961 to February 28, 1961.[22]
  • The first filmed adaptation was by the Encyclopædia Britannica Educational Corporation in 1969; adapted, produced & directed by Larry Yust and starring James Westerfield, Patrick Campbell, and Barry Williams of The Brady Bunch fame in a small role.[23] The story has been adapted for film four other times: in 1972, starring Paul Scofield; in France, in 1976, by Maurice Ronet, starring Michel Lonsdale; in 1977, starring Nicholas Kepros, by Israel Horovitz and Michael B Styer for Maryland Center for Public Broadcasting, which was an entry in the 1978 Peabody Awards competition for television; and in 2001, as Bartleby, starring Crispin Glover.
  • The story has been 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.
  • BBC Radio 4 adaptation dramatised by Martyn Wade, directed by Cherry Cookson and broadcast in 2004. Starring Adrian Scarborough as Bartleby, Ian Holm as the Lawyer, David Collings as Turkey, 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, modern film adaptation: dir. Jonathan Parker, starring David Paymer and Crispin Glover, 2001.

References to


  • Bartleby: La formula della creazione (1993) of Giorgio Agamben and Bartleby, ou la formule by Gilles Deleuze are two important philosophical essays reconsidering many of Melville's ideas.
  • 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.

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 called 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 a documentary, Bartleby en coulisses, around Daniel Pennac's reading of Bartleby the Scrivener.[26]
  • In "Skorpio", the 6th episode of the first season of the television show Archer, Archer quotes Bartleby, and then makes reference to Melville being "not an easy read."
  • In Chapter 12 of the 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 also 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 the Season 1 episode of Ozark entitled "Kaleidoscope", Marty explains to his wife, Wendy, that when the potential for Del (the cartel) to ask Marty to work for him that he would respond as Bartelby would: "I'll give him my best Bartelby impersonation, and I'll say, 'I prefer not to'."
  • A story arc from sixth season of the American anime-style web series RWBY revolving around a species of monsters called "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.


  • 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.

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