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Nineteenth Century Forum pres.

‘Something within the silent black man answered No!’ or, Is Bartleby Uncle Tom on Wall Street?

Laura Korobkin, Associate Professor of English at Boston University

An 1897 illustration of Uncle Tom and Simon Legree from The Digital Public Library of America An 1897 illustration of Uncle Tom and Simon Legree from The Digital Public Library of America
An 1897 illustration of Uncle Tom and Simon Legree from The Digital Public Library of America
Join the Nineteenth Century Forum (NCF) for a paper workshop with Laura Korobkin, Associate Professor of English at Boston University.

This essay argues that the relationship between Bartleby and the lawyer-narrator in “Bartleby, the Scrivener” is Melville’s adaptive rewriting of the chiasmic trajectory of the Tom-Legree relationship in Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In both, a new, disempowered worker in a dehumanizing workplace quietly and respectfully refuses a series of commands, stunning and enraging the master, who interprets the refusals as a willful challenge to his personal mastery. In both texts, though urging no cause and calling none to disobey, the resistor becomes paradoxically empowered, the master disempowered; though the worker could end the conflict at any time by changing his behavior, he chooses not to, ultimately enabling his death in captivity. Challenging the established assumption that he responded to Stowe only with mocking disdain, the essay argues that Melville creatively engaged the novel’s unsentimental Legree section, giving his lawyer-narrator both Legree’s obsession with his own mastery and Shelby and St. Clare’s self-consoling view of their own benevolence. The essay questions Stowe’s absence from “Bartleby” criticism and argues that Melville extends Stowe’s suggestion of economic continuities between plantation and factory by triangulating the national system to include the white collar office.

Please email Sarah Van Cleve (srvc@umich.edu) to RSVP and receive a copy of the pre-circulated paper. All are welcome!

This workshop will be held in the Clements Library meeting space G060. The room is accessed through the north entrance, glass vestibule facing Hatcher Graduate Library. Registrants will need to check-in at the reception desk before accessing the room.

Co-sponsorship for this event is generously provided by The Clements Library, The Department of American Culture, The American History Workshop, and the American Studies Consortium.
An 1897 illustration of Uncle Tom and Simon Legree from The Digital Public Library of America An 1897 illustration of Uncle Tom and Simon Legree from The Digital Public Library of America
An 1897 illustration of Uncle Tom and Simon Legree from The Digital Public Library of America
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