The Short Story: An Introduction

By Paul March-Russell | Go to book overview

5
Economies of Scale:
The Short Story in England

J. G. Ballard has observed that 'short stories are the loose change in the treasury of fiction' (Ballard 2001: iv). The image of the short story as culturally marginal relates to its economic position. Though the American short story has survived within the periodical market since the early nineteenth century, its fortunes have fluctuated according to that market's strength. Today, the American short story depends upon a few established titles, such as The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, Harper's, The Kenyon Review and The New Yorker, and a host of 'little magazines' associated with university departments. Since 1998, this effective cartel has been countered by Dave Eggers' journal, McSweeney's, which was launched as a home for both himself and his contemporaries. In Europe, the traditions of the essay, the speculative piece known as the feuilleton, and the independently produced pamphlet have encouraged a deep respect for short fiction, yet this reverence remains contingent upon market economics. Although magazine circulation has ensured an enduring role for the short story in Europe and the United States, it has also fostered the idea that the form is ephemeral. Magazine stories do not have the same physical or cultural status as fiction published in book-form. Even in the USA, where the short story is regarded as a national artwork, the question 'Where is the Great American Novel?' continues to be posed.

The state of short story publication in England offers an acute illustration of the form's cultural and economic marginality. Short story critics have often viewed English literature as dominated by the novel, and consequently have tended to diminish the achievements of English short storywriters. Taking the economic history of the English short story as a case study, though, highlights similar practices whereby the short story has, to a lesser extent, been marginalised in America and Europe. Furthermore, an account of the origins of the

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