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An old-fashioned clerical worker, especially in the fields of bookkeeping and correspondence.
Prior to the invention of office machines, all number crunching, preparation of documents and correspondence and copying of previously made documents had to be done by hand. Thus a business enterprise of any size had to have a number of workers specifically to create and deal with all the paperwork. They had a number of names and titles, but the one we're using here is "clerk." The term originally comes from the Catholic Church's clergy (singular: cleric), the major source and employer of literate people in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. Note that in British English, it is pronounced "clark."
The clerk is often a supporting character in fiction, making the business run smoothly while the owner or manager has more interesting adventures. If a clerk is the main character, the theme of the story will often be the tedium of the job and the wacky characters they are forced to work with. Beginning in the latter half of the 19th Century, women start being hired as lower-level clerks.
Not to be confused with the Kevin Smith movie, Clerks.
- The title character of Bartleby the Scrivener and his co-workers.
- Bob Crachit of A Christmas Carol.
- In Horatio Alger's first Rags to Riches novel, Ragged Dick, the "riches" Dick rises to is an entry-level clerk position. (But it is steady work that doesn't require him to hustle out on the street.)
- Vetinari has employed Drumknott (the mild-mannered supporting character version of this trope), Wonse ( who plotted to remove Vetinari from power), and the mysterious Dark Clerks.
- A lot of characters in Russian literature are like this, especially in Gogol and Dostoyevsky. There was an odd civil service ladder in Tzarist Russia and the ranking of lower ranked civil servants in the books is often Collegiate Assessor, which corresponded to a military rank of I think colonel.
- Jonathan Harker of Dracula is a clerk, though by the time the story starts he has risen high enough in the company to be trusted with dangerous foreign missions, and he's made a partner in the firm on his return.