Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Viorica Patea, Ed. A Twenty-First-Century Perspective

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Viorica Patea, Ed. A Twenty-First-Century Perspective

Article excerpt

Viorica Patea, ed. Short Story Theories: A Twenty-First-Century Perspective. Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2012. ix + 346 pp. US$101, 89 [euro].

While I suspect that it is a little early in the new century to subtitle a collection of essays "a twenty-first-century perspective" I understand that the impulse springs from the desire to differentiate the book from what presumably counted as twentieth-century short story theory. It is accurate enough to imply that one can trace a trajectory going from Brander Matthews's The Philosophy of the Short-Story (1901) to the late twentieth-century collections of essays such as Susan Lohafer and Jo Ellyn Clarey's Short Story Theory at a Crossroads (1989) as well as Charles E. May's Short Story Theories (1976) and The New Short Story Theories (1994). Viorica Patea's collection does open up some new approaches to short story studies, but it comes as no surprise to note that in each of these books mentioned, whose publication dates span over one hundred years, of all those who have contributed to short story theory, it's a mid nineteenth-century writer who figures the most prominently: Edgar Allan Poe. As every short story theorist knows, when Poe reviewed Nathaniel Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales in 1842, he initiated short story theory by advancing the idea that it is incumbent upon literary critics to ponder the nature of genre when they investigate individual short stories. If his belief that a story should strive for a "single effect" (61) divides scholars almost equally, Poe's attention to the reading experience anticipated how reader response and analyses of closure would occupy subsequent short story theorists. As Erik Van Achter convincingly demonstrates in "Revising Theory: Poe's Legacy in Short Story Criticism" from the Patea collection, almost all twentieth-century approaches to the short story are variations on Poe's original formulations.

Furthermore, it is noteworthy that it was Poe as a successful short story writer who first began theorizing about short fiction. Practitioners of the form, especially in the twentieth century, have played a central role in mapping out the genre's dimensions. I will return to this phenomenon later; let me now only note that writers such as Julio Cortazar, Nadine Gordimer, and Frank O'Connor (among numerous others) were fundamental in developing a provisional poetics of the short story. When May assembled the seminal essay collections referred to earlier, he took care to include almost as many practitioners as scholars. The field of short fiction studies has shifted considerably since May (along with Susan Lohafer and Mary Rohrberger) solidified its foundations during the 1980s, but one of the ways the field has altered is that it seemingly attracts proportionately more scholars than practitioners than it once did. Indeed, in her efforts to sketch out the history of short story theory to an audience at the 2012 mla Conference in Boston, Lohafer mentioned that one of her initial observations concerning Patea's book is that its contributors are all academics. That Patea's collection of essays differs in this respect from the earlier collections garnered by May (who has an essay in Patea's book) gives only one intimation of how what we talk about when we talk about short fiction (to borrow from Raymond Carver somewhat egregiously) has altered since the previous century.

Short Story Theories: A Twenty-First-Century Perspective, which was distinguished with the "Javier Coy Biennial Research Award for the Best Edited Volume" by the Spanish Association of American Studies (the highest distinction of saas) is composed of sixteen essays divided into sections based on Poe's legacy, discourse analysis, hybrid genres and gender, and postmodernist approaches to short fiction. One of the book's particular strengths is its multinational authorship with its contributors based in Belgium, Canada, Mexico, Norway, Spain, and the United States, which has the result of exposing readers to numerous writers and critics not usually discussed in the Anglo/American scholarly community. …

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