The Development of the American Short Story: An Historical Survey

By Fred Lewis Pattee | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIII
THE DISCOVERY OF THE "SHORT-STORY"

I

The term "short story" (hyphenated as Matthews advised, or unhyphenated) as used to designate an independent literary form and not "a story that is merely short," is a new addition to critical terminology, as recent, indeed, as the eighteen-eighties. Irving wrote "sketches" and "tales." Poe travestied the Blackwood's type of tale under the title, "How to Write a Blackwood Article." The North American Review in 1822 discussed Dana The Idle Man and similar story collections in a critique entitled "Essay Writing." Poe and Hawthorne wrote "tales"--Tales of the Folio Club, Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, Seven Tales of My Native Land, The Twice-Told Tales. Poe in his much-quoted critique laid down rules not for the short story, but for "the tale proper," "the short prose narrative requiring from half an hour to one or two hours in its perusal." The terms persisted almost to our own times. Scribner's Monthly, for instance, in the early 'seventies, reviewed Mrs. Skagg's Husbands, as "lively sketches," Coupon Bonds and Other Stories, as "clever sketches," and Marjorie Daw and Other People, as distinctive "short prose tales." Howells reviewed "Marjorie Daw," as a "Sketch." The name "short story" began to be used more and more during the 'sixties and the 'seventies, but never in a generic sense; always the emphasis on the first word. It connoted simply that for general magazine purposes fiction must be severely shortened. That the tale, or the short story, was a distinct genre, necessarily short as a lyric is necessarily short, following laws distinct from those ruling the novel and its abbreviated form the novelette, had been realized in its fullness by no one, save perhaps Poe. Unity of various kinds most of the early tales possessed and suspense and dénouement, but these are only the fundamental requirements of all narrative, long or short. Sometimes the writer actually produced a short story in the modern sense of the term, but never was it, even in

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