As a distinct literary form the short story has existed for only about 150 years
During the 1600s and 1700s, most American prose consisted of accounts of travel &
exploration, histories, biographies, autobiographies, sermons, political tracts
Long works of fiction did not gain significant critical attention or wide readership until the
1820s, with the appearance of the novels of James Fenimore Cooper
Short stories published in magazines were very popular in the mid 1800s - early 1900s
It was not until Washington Irving's The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. was
published in 1820 that the short story or tale assumed a separate role in American literature;
for this creation, Irving deserves recognition as the American godfather of the form we know
today as the short story
Hawthorne, Melville, & Poe can be considered the fathers of the modern form of the short
What is the short story?
- an uncertain and ambiguous genre
- not a mini-novel
- not a simple tale or account of a simple incident
- not merely an anecdote or sketch
William Faulkner believed it was easier to write a novel than a short story because he could
be more careless; in a short story, almost every word must be exactly right
Edgar Allan Poe:
- short story should be able to be read in one sitting
(between 1/2 hour and 2 hours to read)
- during that time, the reader is at the writer's control;
free of external influences or interruptions
- writer attempts to create a "single dominant effect";
every word contributes to that "single effect"
Short stories are reflective of America
- the fragmentation, chaos, and diversity of American life
makes short stories a natural expression
- eager, hasty, impatient country responds to the minimal
time requirement of the short story
Short stories celebrate not only particular regions and ethnic strains of America, but also the
entire national personality
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