Some Anomalies of the Short Story (from Literature and Life)
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Some Anomalies of the Short Story (from Literature and Life)


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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Some Anomalies of the Short Story by William Dean HowellsThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it,give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online atwww.gutenberg.netTitle: Some Anomalies of the Short Story From "Literature and Life"Author: William Dean HowellsRelease Date: October 22, 2004 [EBook #3384]Language: English*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK SOME ANOMALIES OF THE SHORT STORY ***Produced by David WidgerLITERATURE AND LIFE—Some Anomalies of the Short Storyby William Dean HowellsSOME ANOMALIES OF THE SHORT STORYThe interesting experiment of one of our great publishing houses in putting out serially several volumes of short stories,with the hope that a courageous persistence may overcome the popular indifference to such collections when severallyadministered, suggests some questions as to this eldest form of fiction which I should like to ask the reader's patiencewith. I do not know that I shall be able to answer them, or that I shall try to do so; the vitality of a question that is answeredseems to exhale in the event; it palpitates no longer; curiosity flutters away from the faded flower, which is fit then only tobe folded away in the 'hortus siccus' of accomplished facts. In view of this I may wish merely to state the problems andleave them for the reader's solution, ...



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Published 08 December 2010
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oTfh teh eP rSojheocrtt  GStuotreyn bbye rgW ilEliBaomo kD oefa nS oHmoew eAllnsomaliesThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere atno cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever.You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under theterms of the Project Gutenberg License includedwith this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.netTitle: Some Anomalies of the Short Story From"Literature and Life"Author: William Dean HowellsRelease Date: October 22, 2004 [EBook #3384]Language: English*E*B* OSTOAK RST OOMFE  TAHNISO PMRAOLIJEESC TO FG TUHTEE NSBHEORRGTSTORY ***Produced by David WidgerLITERATURE AND LIFE—Some Anomalies of theShort Story
by William Dean HowellsSOME ANOMALIES OF THE SHORTYROTSThe interesting experiment of one of our greatpublishing houses in putting out serially severalvolumes of short stories, with the hope that acourageous persistence may overcome the popularindifference to such collections when severallyadministered, suggests some questions as to thiseldest form of fiction which I should like to ask thereader's patience with. I do not know that I shall beable to answer them, or that I shall try to do so; thevitality of a question that is answered seems toexhale in the event; it palpitates no longer; curiosityflutters away from the faded flower, which is fitthen only to be folded away in the 'hortus siccus' ofaccomplished facts. In view of this I may wishmerely to state the problems and leave them forthe reader's solution, or, more amusingly, for hismystification.
.IOne of the most amusing questions concerning theshort story is why a form which is singly soattractive that every one likes to read a short storywhen he finds it alone is collectively so repellent asit is said to be. Before now I have imagined thecase to be somewhat the same as that of anumber of pleasant people who are mostacceptable as separate householders, but who losecaste and cease to be desirable acquaintanceswhen gathered into a boarding-house.Yet the case is not the same quite, for we see thatthe short story where it is ranged with others of itsspecies within the covers of a magazine is sowelcome that the editor thinks his number themore brilliant the more short story writers he cancall about his board, or under the roof of hispension. Here the boardinghouse analogy breaks,breaks so signally that I was lately moved to ask adistinguished editor why a book of short storiesusually failed and a magazine usually succeededbecause of them. He answered, gayly, that theshort stories in most books of them were bad; thatwhere they were good, they went; and he allegedseveral well-known instances in which books ofprime short stories had a great vogue. He was sohandsomely interested in my inquiry that I couldnot well say I thought some of the short storieswhich he had boasted in his last number wereindifferent good, and yet, as he allowed, had
mainly helped sell it. I had in mind many books ofshort stories of the first excellence which had failedas decidedly as those others had succeeded, forno reason that I could see; possibly there is reallyno reason in any literary success or failure that canbe predicted, or applied in another Base.I could name these books, if it would serve anypurpose, but, in my doubt, I will leave the reader tothink of them, for I believe that his indolence orintellectual reluctance is largely to blame for thefailure of good books of short stories. He iscommonly so averse to any imaginative exertionthat he finds it a hardship to respond to thatpeculiar demand which a book of good shortstories makes upon him. He can read one goodshort story in a magazine with refreshment, and apleasant sense of excitement, in the sort of spur itgives to his own constructive faculty. But, if this isrepeated in ten or twenty stories, he becomesfluttered and exhausted by the draft upon hisenergies; whereas a continuous fiction of the samequantity acts as an agreeable sedative. A conditionthat the short story tacitly makes with the reader,through its limitations, is that he shall subjectivelyfill in the details and carry out the scheme which inits small dimensions the story can only suggest;and the greater number of readers find this toomuch for their feeble powers, while they cannotresist the incitement to attempt it.My theory does not wholly account for the fact (notheory wholly accounts for any fact), and I own thatthe same objections would lie from the reader
against a number of short stories in a magazine.But it may be that the effect is not the same in themagazine because of the variety in the authorship,and because it would be impossibly jolting to readall the short stories in a magazine 'seriatim'. On theother hand, the identity of authorship gives acontinuity of attraction to the short stories in a bookwhich forms that exhausting strain upon theimagination of the involuntary co-partner.
.IIThen, what is the solution as to the form ofpublication for short stories, since people do notobject to them singly but collectively, and not invariety, but in identity of authorship? Are they to beprinted only in the magazines, or are they to becollected in volumes combining a variety ofauthorship? Rather, I could wish, it might be foundfeasible to purvey them in some pretty shapewhere each would appeal singly to the reader andwould not exhaust him in the subjective after-workrequired of him. In this event many short storiesnow cramped into undue limits by the editorialexigencies of the magazines might expand togreater length and breadth, and without ceasing tobe each a short story might not make so heavy ademand upon the subliminal forces of the reader.If any one were to say that all this was a littlefantastic, I should not contradict him; but I hopethere is some reason in it, if reason can help theshort story to greater favor, for it is a form which Ihave great pleasure in as a reader, and pride in asan American. If we have not excelled all othermoderns in it, we have certainly excelled in it;possibly because we are in the period of ourliterary development which corresponds to that ofother peoples when the short story pre-eminentlyflourished among them. But when one has said athing like this, it immediately accuses one of looseand inaccurate statement, and requires one to
refine upon it, either for one's own peace ofconscience or for one's safety from the thoughtfulreader. I am not much afraid of that sort of reader,for he is very rare, but I do like to know myselfwhat I mean, if I mean anything in particular.In this instance I am obliged to ask myself whetherour literary development can be recognizedseparately from that of the whole English- speakingworld. I think it can, though, as I am always sayingAmerican literature is merely a condition of Englishliterature. In some sense every European literatureis a condition of some other European literature,yet the impulse in each eventuates, if it does notoriginate indigenously. A younger literature willchoose, by a sort of natural selection, some thingsfor assimilation from an elder literature, for nomore apparent reason than it will reject otherthings, and it will transform them in the process sothat it will give them the effect of indigeneity. Theshort story among the Italians, who called it thenovella, and supplied us with the name devotedsolely among us to fiction of epical magnitude,refined indefinitely upon the Greek romance, if itderived from that; it retrenched itself in scope, andenlarged itself in the variety of its types. But stillthese remained types, and they remained typeswith the French imitators of the Italian novella. Itwas not till the Spaniards borrowed the form of thenovella and transplanted it to their racier soil that itbegan to bear character, and to fruit in therichness of their picaresque fiction. When theEnglish borrowed it they adapted it, in the metricaltales of Chaucer, to the genius of their nation,
which was then both poetical and humorous. Hereit was full of character, too, and more and morepersonality began to enlarge the bounds of theconventional types and to imbue fresh ones. But inso far as the novella was studied in the Italiansources, the French, Spanish, and Englishliteratures were conditions of Italian literature asdistinctly, though, of course, not so thoroughly, asAmerican literature is a condition of Englishliterature. Each borrower gave a national cast tothe thing borrowed, and that is what has happenedwith us, in the full measure that our nationality hasdifferenced itself from the English.Whatever truth there is in all this, and I will confessthat a good deal of it seems to me hardyconjecture, rather favors my position that we are insome such period of our literary development asthose other peoples when the short story flourishedamong them. Or, if I restrict our claim, I may safelyclaim that they abundantly had the novella whenthey had not the novel at all, and we nowabundantly have the novella, while we have thenovel only subordinately and of at least no suchquantitative importance as the English, French,Spanish, Norwegians, Russians, and some othersof our esteemed contemporaries, not to name theItalians. We surpass the Germans, who, likeourselves, have as distinctly excelled in the modernnovella as they have fallen short in the novel. Or, ifI may not quite say this, I will make bold to say thatI can think of many German novelle that I shouldlike to read again, but scarcely one German novel;and I could honestly say the same of American
novelle, though ton fo mArenaci novels.
I.IIThe abeyance, not to say the desuetude, that thenovella fell into for several centuries is verycurious, and fully as remarkable as the modern riseof the short story. It began to prevail in thedramatic form, for a play is a short story put on thestage; it may have satisfied in that form the earlylove of it, and it has continued to please in thatform; but in its original shape it quite vanished,unless we consider the little studies and sketchesand allegories of the Spectator and Tatler and Idlerand Rambler and their imitations on the Continentas guises of the novella. The germ of the modernshort story may have survived in these, or in themetrical form of the novella which appeared inChaucer and never wholly disappeared. WithCrabbe the novella became as distinctly the shortstory as it has become in the hands of MissWilkins. But it was not till our time that its greatmerit as a form was felt, for until our time so greatwork was never done with it. I remind myself ofBoccaccio, and of the Arabian Nights, without thewish to hedge from my bold stand. They are allelemental; compared with some finer modern workwhich deepens inward immeasurably, they are allof their superficial limits. They amuse, but they donot hold, the mind and stamp it with large andprofound impressions.tAhne  OEcacsitdeernn ttaal lecsa;n nboutt  jIu dwigll e otwhne  limteyr asruys pqiuciaolint yt hofat