The Oxford Library of Short Novels - Vol. 1

The Oxford Library of Short Novels - Vol. 1

The Oxford Library of Short Novels - Vol. 1

The Oxford Library of Short Novels - Vol. 1

Synopsis

The short novel is a literary form that has stimulated writers to some of their greatest work. This selection, drawn from the period when the genre was at its height, 1880 to 1945, and from British, European and American authors, offers readers a wide range of imaginative fiction. In his introduction, Wain argues that the short novel exists as a complementary form to the full-length genre, while being distinct from the snap-shot quality of the short story proper.

Excerpt

All these tales were written within the two centuries or so that witnessed the meridian of prose fiction in Western literature, the epoch when it was virtually unrivalled as a source of recreation and entertainment and at the same time an acknowledged force in promoting both self-knowledge and awareness of the needs of society. During those years, technology--such as it then was--worked in favour of the written story by providing it with rapid printing, easy multiplication of copies, speed of transport and distribution, rather than, as now, overwhelming it with a multiplicity of competition. During at least the first century of our chosen period, the novel grew like a joyously undisciplined tropical forest, unregulated, pushing higher and higher by its own hungry vitality. Compared with the steady flow of theory and critical analysis that had accompanied poetry and drama for thousands of years, since the very inception of our literary tradition, the novel grew from strength to strength on impulse and public appetite with no guidance, and equally no hindrance, from the critics. Nobody defined its aims for it or held up formal targets and norms. During its formative years it drew much of its strength from English writers and yet the most important English critics--Johnson, Coleridge, Hazlitt, Lamb, De Quincey, right through to Matthew Arnold in the middle of the nineteenth century--do not take it as matter for discussion. We can fairly say that as far as England is concerned, the novel had to wait for Henry James's subtle and penetrating essays of the 1870s and 1880s before it received the kind of criticism that seriously went into questions of form as well as of content and social tendency; and James came to the task from an apprenticeship in France, where a new and more conscious breed of fiction-writers, from Stendhal through Flaubert to the Goncourts, were approaching their work more rigorously than was common in England. Here, novelists tended to be regarded as a body of professionals like journalists or historians, with their own imperatives, pursuing their avocation slightly to one side of the concerns of the 'man of letters'. Not until Oxford University awarded a Doctorate of Letters to Ivan Turgenev in 1879 was there a public act . . .

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