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The Great English Short-Story Writers, Volume 1   By: (1804-1864)

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To the publishers and authors who have courteously permitted the use of copyrighted material in these two volumes, a word of grateful acknowledgment is hereby given by the editors.




II. THE APPARITION OF MRS. VEAL. By Daniel Defoe (1661 1731)

III. THE MYSTERIOUS BRIDE. By James Hogg (1770 1835)

IV. THE DEVIL AND TOM WALKER. By Washington Irving (1783 1859)

V. DR. HEIDEGGER'S EXPERIMENT. By Nathaniel Hawthorne (1807 1864)

VI. THE PURLOINED LETTER. By Edgar Allan Poe (1809 1849)

VII. RAB AND HIS FRIENDS. By Dr. John Brown (1810 1882)

VIII. THE BOOTS AT THE HOLLY TREE INN. By Charles Dickens (1812 1870)

IX. A STORY OF SEVEN DEVILS. By Frank R. Stockton. (1834 1902)

X. A DOG'S TALE. By Mark Twain (1835)

XI. THE OUTCASTS OF POKER FLAT. By Bret Harte (1839 1902)

XII. THE THREE STRANGERS. By Thomas Hardy (1840)

XIII. JULIA BRIDE. By Henry James (1843)

XIV. A LODGING FOR THE NIGHT. By Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 1894)


The Evolution of the Short Story


The short story commenced its career as a verbal utterance, or, as Robert Louis Stevenson puts it, with "the first men who told their stories round the savage camp fire."

It bears the mark of its origin, for even to day it is true that the more it creates the illusion of the speaking voice, causing the reader to listen and to see, so that he forgets the printed page, the better does it accomplish its literary purpose. It is probably an instinctive appreciation of this fact which has led so many latter day writers to narrate their short stories in dialect. In a story which is communicated by the living voice our attention is held primarily not by the excellent deposition of adjectives and poise of style, but by the striding progress of the plot; it is the plot, and action in the plot, alone which we remember when the combination of words which conveyed and made the story real to us has been lost to mind. "Crusoe recoiling from the foot print, Achilles shouting over against the Trojans, Ulysses bending the great bow, Christian running with his fingers in his ears; these are each culminating moments, and each has been printed on the mind's eye for ever."[1]

[Footnote 1: A Gossip on Romance, from Memories and Portraits , by R.L. Stevenson.]

The secondary importance of the detailed language in which an incident is narrated, when compared with the total impression made by the naked action contained in the incident, is seen in the case of ballad poetry, where a man may retain a vivid mental picture of the localities, atmosphere, and dramatic moments created by Coleridge's Ancient Mariner , or Rossetti's White Ship , and yet be quite incapable of repeating two consecutive lines of the verse. In literature of narration, whether prose or verse, the dramatic worth of the action related must be the first consideration.

In earlier days, when much of the current fiction was not written down, but travelled from mouth to mouth, as it does in the Orient to day, this fact must have been realized that, in the short story, plot is superior to style. Among modern writers, however, there has been a growing tendency to make up for scantiness of plot by high literary workmanship; the result has been in reality not a short story, but a descriptive sketch or vignette, dealing chiefly with moods and landscapes. So much has this been the case that the writer of a recent Practical Treatise on the Art of the Short Story has found it necessary to make the bald statement that "the first requisite of a short story is that the writer have a story to tell."[2]

[Footnote 2: Short Story Writing , by Charles Raymond Barrett.]

However lacking the stories which have come down to us from ancient times may be in technique, they invariably narrate action they have something to tell... Continue reading book >>

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