THE history of the short story in English is the history of changing fashions in the writing of the short tale.
The first fashion came into Anglo-Saxon England with the culture of the Roman Church. It brought those little religious narratives, where the story that had to be short was allowed to become written literature because it was holy.
The next came from France at the prime of her middle ages. There was the fabliau, which was the minstrel's reflective story, the fable, which was the clerk's, and the exemplum, the priest's. There was also the lai, where the fairy tale was burnished up for literature; and the conte dévot, in which naïveté reached its most exquisite height.
Afterwards, Chaucer took these medieval fashions, and gave spirit and humanity to all of them, so that his Canterbury stories are wholly English, even though most of the plots, all of the types, and half of the style, came from France, Italy, or the Latin literature of the church. By beauty of verse, and excellence of telling, and truth and richness of the life therein contained, he became the first Englishman to lift the short-story kind above the reproach of triviality. And, furthermore, he did what great writers