Bring Back the Short Story

Cape Times (South Africa), October 3, 2006 | Go to article overview

Bring Back the Short Story


I was thinking the other day of Aldous Huxley's beautiful short story Young Archimedes and how it captures so movingly the sadness, frustration and waste of talent aborted by environment. This led me to thinking of other great short stories, and even, to tumble head over heels from the sublime to the ridiculous, some of my own.

How sad it is that the short story has lost popularity. One would have thought that the short story would be ideal reading matter in this hurried age, where we are said to have shortened concentration spans due to TV watching. Stuck on a plane or train what would be better than a short story such as DH Lawrence's stories of the English countryside. Sometimes I find that the short works of men like Lawrence, Hemingway and Steinbeck are better than their novels.

When American authors such as James Michener write about Alaska the book has to be about the same size as the subject. Perhaps it is this that has led us to believe that we aren't getting our money's worth if the book isn't the size of a shipping container.

Our magazines, too, have deserted the short story. Gone are the days when all the magazines contained one or several short stories. There were The Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, Esquire (which still often has a story), Redbook, McCalls, The Ladies Home Journal, Bluebook. Argosy was an English publication devoted completely to the short story and containing work by such writers as HE Bates and Geoffrey Household.

Perhaps in this time of exponentially increasing technology real events have become of more interest than fiction. Such strange things reported by the media that we perhaps do not need the imaginative work of fiction.

And yet, it is the empathy of the work of the imagination that leads us to have sympathy for the suffering, and it is fiction's look into the soul and search for motive that breeds tolerance for our fellow man. I doubt whether, without the influence of fiction, we would have so strongly resisted the repressive forces of religious and political tyrannies.

Actually, our need for stories in which we can lose ourselves and be entertained seems as strong as ever and is shown by the tremendous popularity of the film and television. …

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