The Short Story: An Introduction

By Paul March-Russell | Go to book overview
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Preface

The aim of this new introduction is two-fold. First, it introduces the development of the international short story from its folktale origins to the present day, and second, it relates the short story to cultural debates that will also introduce the reader to areas of critical and theoretical discussion. To achieve this aim, the book is structured in twenty chapters that work thematically rather than chronologically. Consequently, although I have strived for inclusion, I have not sought to be comprehensive. There are regrettable omissions some of which I allude to in the text while some notable writers are reduced to passing comment. Equally, other writers, too often overlooked by the narrow focus of short story theory, receive greater prominence. This decision has been influenced by the argument that underwrites the study, namely, that the making of the short story is central to an understanding of modern literature and that the short story can be best understood as a type of fragment. Like the literary fragment, the short story is prone to snap and to confound readers' expectations, to delight in its own incompleteness, and to resist definition. These qualities not only mean that the short story has been of service to experimental writers but that they also relate the short story and, in turn, modern and contemporary literature to the mutability of the oral tradition. Since one (late Marxist) strain in critical theory sees modern culture as irrevocably split, the short story is of particular use in understanding the relationship between art and modernity, and in particular the development of popular fiction. Greater space is devoted to popular sub-genres, and their relationship to literary fiction, than in previous introductions. Critical attempts to gloss the short story as a 'well-made' structure omit not only these areas but also the irreducible complexity of the short story form: this is one reason among many why I sound a cautionary note about the enduring legacy

-viii-

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