On Two Short Stories


Finished re-reading Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener in which the taciturn hero is hard-working and focused in his job of copying documents, but is adamant about not doing anything else he is asked to do by his boss at the Wall Street Law Firm where he was working.

The story was at times tedious, because it was repetitive, yet it kept my interest because I was eager to know what exactly was the problem with the poor fellow. I couldn’t believe he was put in prison for no serious crime at all. But the easy-going atmosphere of the prison was good to know.

Later I read some commentaries on the story. Some have suggested that the character was a projection of Melville’s own self when he felt he wasn’t very successful or productive. My own interpretation is that Mr. B was suffering from some kind of autism of which people in those days were not very aware.

I was also surprised to learn that this short story was written in 1853 when Guy de Maupassant was only three years old. I vaguely reading somewhere that Maupassant was the first to start the genre of literature called short stories: Maybe it was so in French, but Maupassant was certainly one of the most prolific short-story writers. I recall reading his Les Bijoux years ago: a beautifully written sad little story about a necklace. The woman who had borrowed a diamond necklace  from a friend to go to a party lost it. She and her modest husband borrowed a vast sum of money to buy an identical diamond necklace to return it to the friend, and ten full years to replay the loan. In the meanwhile they had sacrificed a lot. In the end they discovered that the borrowed necklace had been a fake. A story beautifully told, and with an unexpected ending.

February 1, 2013

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About Varadaraja V. Raman

Physicist, philosopher, explorer of ideas, bridge-builder, devotee of Modern Science and Enlightenment, respecter of whatever is good and noble in religious traditions as well as in secular humanism,versifier and humorist, public speaker, dreamer of inter-cultural,international,inter-religious peace.
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