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, who are employed in drafting and copying legal documents.
- 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.)
- Lord Vetinari employs a number of clerks, including Lupine Wonse (from Guards! Guards!, who plotted to remove Vetinari from power), Rufus Drumknott (the mild-mannered supporting character version of this trope), and the mysterious Dark Clerks who are very clearly the Gaslamp Fantasy equivalent of The Men in Black.
- One of the main characters in Making Money is Malvolio Bent, the super-uptight chief clerk of the Royal Bank of Ankh-Morpork who chafes under the reckless showmanship of protagonist Moist von Lipwig (and the fact that despite his fanatic attachment to the gold standard, he's well-aware the vaults are empty).
- 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 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.
- Mad Men is set in the final years in which clerking is considered a valid stand-alone profession. Over the course of the series, the typing pool is replaced by photocopies and word processors and the various secretaries would eventually move on to more creative jobs.
- In Grim Prairie Tales, Farley Deeds is a clerk travelling from Seattle to Jacksonville to meet up with his wife, who gets caught up in a storytelling competition with Boisterous Bruiser Bounty Hunter Morrison. The fact that the central character in Morrison's second story—a clerk in a hardware store named Tom who falls victim to a Vagina Dentata—bears a strong resemblance to him is not lost on Deeds.
- Sherlock Holmes and Watson pass themselves off as an accountant and a clerk to aid a client (himself a stockbroker's clerk with questions about his suspiciously cushy new job). It turned out to be a scam where the real clerk was impersonated to rob a bank.