The American Short Story since 1950

By Kasia Boddy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
The New Yorker Short Story
at Mid-Century

Flannery O’Connor had not always been hostile to the New Yorker. Before she went to Iowa, her big ambition was to become its resident cartoonist, the ‘new James Thurber’, and she submitted, unsuccessfully, a ‘batch every week’.1 She was also unsuccessful in placing her stories in 1952, one was rejected on the grounds that its subject matter made it ‘at best, a rather unlikely story’ for the magazine.2 The mismatch between author and magazine was confirmed three years later when the New Yorker published a dismissive review of A Good Man is Hard to Find?

In 1955, the New Yorkerwas thirty years old. Born in the Jazz Age, its founder, Harold Ross, who remained editor until 1952, conceived it as a magazine ‘of gaiety, wit and satire’ aimed exclusively ‘for a metropolitan audience’. Its ideal reader was defined from the start, both negatively - the founding prospectus declared that it was not for ‘the old lady in Dubuque’ (that is, Middle America) - and positively, in the figure of the monocled dandy, Eustace Tilley, the striking illustration on the first cover.4 Rather than target subscribers, Ross appealed to those New York advertisers who didn’t bother with national circulation magazines. But although it provided information about city theatres, galleries and restaurants, the New Yorker was much more than simply a sophisticated metropolitan listings magazine. It gained a reputation for factual reporting, for humour and cartoons, and for short fiction, and in doing so, cultivated an image of Manhattan that the rest of the country, including the old lady in Dubuque, found irresistible. Like ‘the South’, ‘Manhattan’ not only named a place but also a set of values or point of view, one that would find its consummate image in a 1976 cover by Saul Steinberg, “View of the World from 9th Avenue’.5

The New Yorker grew steadily in circulation, advertising revenue and influence throughout the 1930s and 1940s and by mid-century, it had become a ‘totem for the educated American middle and upper-middle classes’.6 The magazine - large parts of which were written from the

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