fiction

every night of every day it is an emptiness

Yes, thought I, it is evident enough that Bartleby has been making his home here, keeping bachelor’s hall all by himself. Immediately then the thought came sweeping across me, What miserable friendlessness and loneliness are here revealed! His poverty is great; but his solitude, how horrible! Think of it. Of a Sunday, Wall Street is as deserted as Petra; and every night of every day it is an emptiness. This building too, which of weekdays hums with industry and life, at nightfall echoes with sheer vacancy, and all through Sunday is forlorn. And here Bartleby makes his home; sole spectator of a solitude which he has seen all populous — a sort of innocent and transformed Marius brooding among the ruins of Carthage!

For the first time in my life a feeling of overpowering stinging melancholy seized me. Before, I had never experienced aught but a not-unpleasing sadness. The bond of a common humanity now drew me irresistibly to gloom. A fraternal melancholy! For both I and Bartleby were sons of Adam.

– Herman Melville, “Bartleby, The Scrivener”

I first read this short story in high school, and have not reread it since then. There are worse things to read on Christmas, if you don’t celebrate Christmas. The myth of Christ is intertwined with the story of Bartleby, and yet the entire thing is pleasantly subsumed in irony and nihilism. It’s a good way to think about what this omnipresent holiday means and has meant to our and other cultures, without actually engaging in it.

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