The Short Story in English

By Henry Seidel Canby | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

PROPOSE in the following pages to discuss the practice of the short story in English.

The vagueness of the term "short story" is apparent. No less apparent is the existence, in every literature and period, of groups of narratives which we can call by no other name. The literatures of ancient Greece, of Buddhistic India, of medieval France and Arabia -- for each of them readers will bring to mind a well-marked, well-recognized genre which to-day we should put under the short story classification. The fable, the Milesian story, the birth-story of the Jatakas, the fabliau and conte -- each name suggests a type of literary expression employed for very definite purposes. As writers or readers named the sonnet, the ballade, the chanson, so they named these varieties of short narrative, and felt, with more or less reason, that in each case man was endeavoring to express his idea of life in a particular and chosen fashion.

If we feel the vagueness of "short story," as used in a historical review of our narrative literature, it is not because there are no short stories which, in the age of their birth, were employed in literary work of a special nature. We would scarcely think the words vague if nothing definite were to be named by them! Nor is it because of the impossibility of marking off from long narrative the short narrative which is to be given a name. That difficulty is serious only for the rhetorician.

-xi-

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