These six short novels show Melville's cleverness and wit as well as his understanding of both the comic and tragic in everyday life. The collection begins with "Bartleby the Scrivener", in which Bartleby, a clerk in a law firm, suddenly starts answering all requests with "I would prefer not to", and mayhem naturally results. It is followed by "Billy Budd", about an angelic, innocent sailor who is punished unjustly. Also included are "The Apple Tree Table", "The Piazza", "I and My Chimney", and "The Happy Failure".
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When a beautiful portrait is painted of him, young Dorian Gray makes a vain, rash wish to always remain as beautiful as the painting. His wish comes true, and Gray starts a descent deep into moral decay. As he indulges in excesses and corruption, his physical form remains unblemished - but the portrait becomes decrepit and ugly. Gray's evil deeds eventually grow to include murder and lead him further and further toward Wilde's disconcerting conclusion that "ugliness is the only reality".
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