The Short Story in English

By Henry Seidel Canby | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
STORIES TOLD FOR PLEASURE

THE conte dévot was bound up with credulity, and dependent upon the literary activity of the church. The exemplum, as a literary form, was almost as dependent upon this same activity, and though in the middle of the fourteenth century both were in the height of popularity, the gathering influences which led to the reformation already make clear that their term was set. The fable and the apologue are only a little more promising, for it is not by the moral road that story-telling reaches its best. Some time, however, before this century of Chaucer, narratives whose future was somewhat rosier were in bloom beside these others, and we turn to them as to flowers of the invention more hardy than the conte dévot, more beautiful than the apologue and fable. Told for pleasure merely, they are the oldest and the youngest of stories, and if their number in the shortnarrative literature of early English is small when compared with the flood of tales inspired by religious devotion, it is only because this literature was so largely dominated by ecclesiastical prejudice.


THE LAI

Of such stories, the short romances, as a branch of that romantic adventure with which the secular writer

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