Origins: From Folktale to
The Oxford English Dictionary dates the earliest recorded reference to the term 'short story' to 1877. Anthony Trollope, in his Autobiography (1883), mentions writing 'certain short stories' but, as he suggests elsewhere ('It was a short story, about one volume in length'), he is referring to prose fictions that are simply shorter than his usual narratives (Trollope 1950: 136, 160). Wilkie Collins, likewise, referred to his shorter fiction as 'little novels'. In the United States, despite their apparent advance upon the British, the term only gained currency during the 1880s. Nevertheless, as Raymond Williams indicates in his book Keywords (1976), the coinage of a word or phrase implies the need to represent in language a cultural change, a shift in consciousness or society. The neologism of the 'short story' signifies a redefinition of literature towards the end of the nineteenth century; how it is produced, received and consumed. Consequently, the making of the short story acts as an index to the invention of modern fiction and its relationship to changing social, economic and cultural contexts.
Yet, writers did not immediately embrace this new term. British writers, such as Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson, adhered to the older designation of the tale, while E. M. Forster referred to his short stories as fables. Joseph Conrad made no clear distinction between his longer and shorter fictions – to him they were all 'stories' (Fraser 1996: 25). Contrary to popular critical belief, American writers were not any more helpful. Henry James rejected the distinction of novel and short story, preferring instead the non-equivalent French terms of nouvelle and conte. Mark Twain's satires and tall tales also fail to fit the dictates of the modern short story as prescribed by pioneering critics such as Brander Matthews. Yet, as the title of Matthews' The Philosophy of the Short-Story (1901) indicates, even he was uncertain as to how this new form should be