Romance and the Fragment
In the preceding chapters, a tendency towards fragmentation has been noted within the short story: character viewed as an incomplete object, rural communities evoked as they verge on vanishing, the city dramatised as an irrecoverable absence. In this chapter I want to explore in more detail the aesthetic relationship between the short story and the fragment.
Although it was Edgar Allan Poe who argued that the artistic success of the short story lay in its 'unity of impression', Poe also contended in the same review of Nathaniel Hawthorne that the structure of the short story tended towards a 'single effect', in other words, a fragment upon which the whole turned. As suggested in Chapter 9, it was relatively straightforward to graft Poe's single effect onto the early modernist notion of the epiphany, the moment of illumination that was itself foreshadowed by Romantic aesthetics, for instance William Wordsworth's belief in 'spots in time'. Mary Rohrberger, summarising her influential study of Hawthorne, makes a similar connection. Following Hawthorne's own distinction between realism and romance in his preface to The House of the Seven Gables (1851), Rohrberger associates his tales with romance narrative: 'the allegorical framework of myth, the historical past, and patterns of images creating metaphors, symbolic identifications' (in Winther et al. 2004: 4). Yet, she also reads Hawthorne's aesthetic through the critical language of modernism: 'Hawthorne's best stories … clearly ended in epiphany' (in Winther et al. 2004: 5). Despite the many ambiguities that surface in Hawthorne's writing, for example in 'Young Goodman Brown' (1835) or 'The Minister's Black Veil' (1836), Rohrberger still seeks to draw out the underlying unity favoured by New Criticism and by modernist poets such as T. S. Eliot. Nevertheless, in citing Hawthorne as a progenitor of the short story and in linking his tales to romance, Rohrberger opens up a critical pathway.