Monday, May 19, 2008

Toward a history of the office novel


The BBC Open Book program(me) I was on mentioned Wodehouse's Psmith in the City and the Grossmiths' Diary of a Nobody (which I love; you can read it here) as early office novels; now Levi shares some great scenes from Oblomov (1859):

At home, he had heard that a boss or a supervisor was a father to his subordinates and had formed an image of such a personage, an image as beaming and benign and indulgent as a member of his own family. He saw him as a kind of second father who lived and breathed only to reward his subordinates and to cater, unceasingly and unremittingly, regardless of their merits, not only to their needs but even to their pleasures. Ilya Ilyich thought that a superior was so intimately bound up in the welfare of his subordinates that he would inquire anxiously whether he had had a good night's sleep, why his eyes were a little cloudy and whether he might not have a little headache.

His first day on the job was thus a rude awakening. The moment the supervisor appeared, everyone started hustling and bustling and bumping into each other from sheer agitation, some even nervously fingering their clothing in case he might deem them not sufficiently presentable. The reason for this, as Oblomov subsequently became aware, was that in the person of a subordinate scared out of his wits and rushing to pay his respects, a certain type of boss saw not only proper respect for his person, but a mark of zealousness and indeed at times even of competence.

Any other favorite early office novels/stories? Bartleby the Scrivener, of course...what else?

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6 Comments:

Blogger selfdivider said...

Robert Walser's The Assistant comes to mind...

10:09 AM  
Blogger Mollie said...

What's that story by Nathaniel Hawthorne? I think we had to read it in high school along with The Scarlet Letter. Ah, here it is: "The Custom-House" ! Does that count? Are you considering nonfiction office-related essays?

11:41 AM  
Blogger Jenny Davidson said...

David Copperfield and various other Dickens...

Oh, if you have not read Dorothy Sayers' "Murder Must Advertise," please read it at once, you will utterly love it & it is one of the great office novels of all time!

Will think of some others, it must really be an interesting and varied category...

2:49 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

These are great! I'll have my intern consolidate them into a graphically pleasing timeline, and . . . what's that? I don't have an intern? Oh...

Well, I will do the task myself, at some point...!

2:55 PM  
Blogger Thomas Beard said...

I feel like there's some bad joke to be made here about office novels, post-office novels, and post office novels (e.g. Stefan Zweig's The Post-Office Girl).

10:16 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Bad joke? That sounds like the BEST joke.

Bukowski's POST OFFICE...

* * *

Where does NOVEL ON YELLOW PAPER fit in?

10:18 PM  

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