Herman Melville Short Stories & Novellas

Herman Melville is best known for the novel Moby Dick, but he also wrote short fiction. If the only Melville story you’ve read is “Bartleby, the Scrivener”, this page should help you find another selection.

“Bartleby, the Scrivener”

An elderly, Manhattan lawyer tells the story of Bartleby, the strangest law-copyist he has ever heard of. When business picked up, he hired Bartleby, whose sedate disposition seemed like a perfect balance to his other employees. He did an exceptional quantity of work for a short time. On Bartleby’s third day on the job, though, he was asked to look over a document, and simply replied, “I would prefer not to.” This marked the beginning of a trend for Bartleby.

This story can be read in the preview of Classic Short Stories: The Complete Collection(50% in)

“The Lightning-Rod Man”

On a very stormy night, a salesman calls on the narrator, warning him of the dangers of lightning. He tries to sell the narrator a lightning rod. Each strike of lightning makes his pitch more urgent, but the narrator trusts God with his fate.

This story can also be read in the above preview of Classic Short Stories: The Complete Collection. (73% in)

“Benito Cereno”

Captain Delano’s ship is anchored at an uninhabited island near Chile. A ship not showing friendly colors or any other identifying marks approaches awkwardly. Thinking the ship might be in distress, Delano boards his whaleboat and makes his way to the strangers. Drawing nearer he sees the ship carries black slaves and other valuable freight. Delano boards the vessel and is greeted by more black people than white. He’s told that scurvy and fever have hit the ship, killing more of the Spanish crew than the slaves. Delano meets the Spanish Captain, Cereno, and offers his assistance. Delano notices some odd behavior among the crew and passengers.

This novella can be read here.

“The Two Temples”

A man visits two temples, one in New York and one in England. In part 1, Temple First, a man walks three miles to a temple only to find he can’t get in. The church warden refuses him entry because he looks too poor. The man notices a side door, which he thinks leads up to the tower. He sneaks in, climbing the fifty stone steps to the upper floor. He’s able to look through a gap in a window at the service. In part 2, Temple Second, a stranger in London who owes his landlord money needs something to do until he can sneak back to his room. He ends up at a theatre. He wants to go in but doesn’t have enough for a ticket. While thinking about pawning his overcoat, a man suddenly approaches and gives him a free ticket.

“Poor Man’s Pudding and Rich Man’s Crumbs”

In the first section, set in America, Poet Blandmour enthusiastically explains how nature provides everything the poor man needs, including the various and healthful uses for rain, snow and herbs. The narrator looks into the matter himself, visiting the house of a poor wood-cutter and his wife. In the second section, it’s about a year later and the narrator sails to London, where a friendly man shows him British charity. Yesterday, many notables attended the grand Guildhall Banquet to the princes. Today, the leftovers will be made available to the poor.

“The Happy Failure: A Story of the River Hudson”

A youngster waits for his elderly uncle at the river at nine in the morning. His uncle soon approaches followed by his servant, Yorpy, who’s carrying a large, oblong black box. The uncle orders the box placed on a boat, carefully, as his fortune depends on its contents. Their destination is Quash Island, ten miles away. The uncle is going to test his invention, the Great Hydraulic-Hydrostatic Apparatus for draining swamps and marshes, converting them into fertile fields.