Postmodern Approaches to the Short Story

By Farhat Iftekharrudin; Joseph Boyden et al. | Go to book overview

3
Genre and the Work of Reading in Mansfield's
[Prelude] and [At the Bay]

Suzanne Ferguson

From its beginnings the short story has lent itself to sequencing, by both authors and readers alike: The Hebrew Bible, we now realize, is a cobbled-together short story sequence, as are most epics, romances, and picaresque novels. Put into sequence—chronologically, genealogically, geographically—they [become] a different genre, to be read in parts, perhaps, but understood as a whole. When, in the later nineteenth century, the short story rose to prominence as an artistic genre, sequences (and cycles) grew up side by side with the single story, making possible, for example, the publication and sale of related stories in separate volumes, as in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes or P. G. Wodehouse's many volumes about Bertie and Jeeves. Such volumes we do not think of as [sequences] because, except for the final story in Tales of Sherlock Holmes, where Conan Doyle tried to kill off his charismatic hero, they have no governing formal development and denouement. Perhaps Doyle's public so fervently demanded the return of Sherlock Holmes precisely because there was no sequence leading to his [death.]

The modernist/impressionist story, however, grew up with [sequences] such as George Moore's The Untilled Field, with its themes of Irish emigration and alienation, followed by Joyce's Dubliners and Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio. The critical enterprise confronting these works must study the meanings of the sequence as a whole as much as of the individual stories. Recently, I have become interested in related stories from this period and after that resist readers' efforts to cast them into sequence: Mansfield's New Zealand stories of the Fairfield/Burnell family from the years 1910–1919; Grace Paley's [Faith Darwin] stories from the 50s through the 80s, Sherman Alexie's [Victor] stories of the early 1990s. These groups have in common that they are autobiographical and

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