The Tales We Tell: Perspectives on the Short Story

By Barbara Lounsberry; Susan Lohafer et al. | Go to book overview

4
The One and the Many: Canadian Short Story Cycles

Gerald Lynch

Over the past hundred years the short story cycle has become something of a subgenre within the Canadian short story. 1 This is not to argue that the story cycle has been ignored by American and British writers (or, for that matter, by the writers of any other national literature)--it has not--only that the form has held a special attraction for Canadian writers. Doubtless there are shared reasons for the story cycle's current popularity internationally and in Canada; for example, publishers often assume readers are more comfortable with the linkages of the cycle than with the discontinuities of the miscellany of stories. But such matters are not within this chapter's literary-historical and theoretical scope. This chapter will sketch the history of the short story cycle in Canada, give an idea of its diversity and continuing popularity, consider some of the fundamental questions about this comparatively new form, and conclude with an illustrative analysis of the function of one important aspect of story cycles, their concluding stories.

Those interested in the Canadian short story cycle can hesitantly claim predecessors in the works of early writers of epistolary novels, collections of letters, and books of loosely linked sketches: Frances Brooke A History of Emily Montague ( 1769), Thomas McCulloch Letters of Mephibosheth Stepsure (serialized 1821-23), Thomas Chandler Haliburton The Clockmaker ( 1836), and the writings of Catharine Parr Traill and Susanna Moodie in the mid-nineteenth century. Moreover, much of the serially published and sequentially organized writings of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had to have been influenced by Charles Dickens Sketches by Boz ( 1836) and Pickwick Papers ( 1837). Indeed, Dickens's first books were a seminal influence not only on the Canadian short story cycle--especially on Susanna Moodie and Stephen Leacock--but also on the English story cycle generally. A similar claim can be made for the importance of Ivan Turgenev A Sportsman's Sketches ( 1852),

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