Where Do We Go from Here? The Future of the Short Story
Where do we go from here?
I used to think that if I were prescient enough I could tell by consulting Hawthorne somewhat in the way devoted followers consult the I Ching. Some short story theorists establish the early nineteenth century as the beginning of the short story and point to such authors as Hawthorne and Poe and Gogol as forbears of the genre. Such theorists, and I am one, do not deny that stories that are short existed from the time people began to tell stories; what we hold is that something happened to the form of the short story that caused Poe in the early 1840s to offer a new definition of the form on the occasion of his review of Hawthorne Twice Told Tales, and Brander Matthews, another American short story writer and critic some forty years after Poe, to proclaim the birth of a new genre: the short story.
Matthews was clearly influenced by Poe and Poe by Hawthorne; thus, I have looked to Hawthorne's early stories to find prototypes. Indeed, as early as the early 1830s Hawthorne was writing such aesthetically satisfying stories as "My Kinsman, Major Molineaux" and "Roger Malvin's Burial." But even more important for present purposes, he did not commit to the fire stories like "The Wives of the Dead" and "The Hollows of the Three Hills." What is intriguing about all of this is that in the great Hawthorne Renaissance inspired by the New Critics in the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s, scholars recognized the narrative coherence of the former but spoke of the latter as merely sketches. In fact, we needed to learn how to read the so-called sketches; and learning how to read them took us through modernism to postmodernism, us with epiphanic structures and the sometimes plotless, imagistic forms of the post- modern metafictionist or alternate reality stories.