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Short Stories Old and New   By: (1864-1924)

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SHORT STORIES

OLD AND NEW

SELECTED AND EDITED

BY

C. ALPHONSO SMITH

EDGAR ALLAN POE PROFESSOR OF ENGLISH IN THE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA, AUTHOR OF "THE AMERICAN SHORT STORY," ETC.

1916

INTRODUCTION

Every short story has three parts, which may be called Setting or Background, Plot or Plan, and Characters or Character. If you are going to write a short story, as I hope you are, you will find it necessary to think through these three parts so as to relate them interestingly and naturally one to the other; and if you want to assimilate the best that is in the following stories, you will do well to approach them by the same three routes.

The Setting or Background gives us the time and the place of the story with such details of custom, scenery, and dialect as time and place imply. It answers the questions When? Where? The Plot tells us what happened. It gives us the incidents and events, the haps or mishaps, that are interwoven to make up the warp and woof of the story. Sometimes there is hardly any interweaving; just a plain plan or simple outline is followed, as in "The Christmas Carol" or "The Great Stone Face." We may still call the core of these two stories the Plot, if we want to, but Plan would be the more accurate. This part of the story answers the question What ? Under the heading Characters or Character we study the personalities of the men and women who move through the story and give it unity and coherence. Sometimes, as in "The Christmas Carol" or "Markheim," one character so dominates the others that they are mere spokes in his hub or incidents in his career. But in "The Gift of the Magi," though more space is given to Della, she and Jim act from the same motive and contribute equally to the development of the story. In one of our stories the main character is a dog, but he is so human that we may still say that the chief question to be answered under this heading is Who?

Many books have been written about these three parts of a short story, but the great lesson to be learned is that the excellence of a story, long or short, consists not in the separate excellence of the Setting or of the Plot or of the Characters but in the perfect blending of the three to produce a single effect or to impress a single truth. If the Setting does not fit the Plot, if the Plot does not rise gracefully from the Setting, if the Characters do not move naturally and self revealingly through both, the story is a failure. Emerson might well have had our three parts of the short story in mind when he wrote,

All are needed by each one; Nothing is fair or good alone.

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

I. ESTHER, From the Old Testament

II. THE HISTORY OF ALI BABA AND THE FORTY ROBBERS, From "The Arabian Nights"

III. RIP VAN WINKLE, By Washington Irving

IV. THE GOLD BUG, By Edgar Allan Poe

V. A CHRISTMAS CAROL, By Charles Dickens

VI. THE GREAT STONE FACE, By Nathaniel Hawthorne

VII. RAB AND HIS FRIENDS, By Dr. John Brown

VIII. THE OUTCASTS OF POKER FLAT, By Bret Harte

IX. MARKHEIM, By Robert Louis Stevenson

X. THE NECKLACE, By Guy de Maupassant

XI. THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, By Rudyard Kipling

XII. THE GIFT OF THE MAGI, By O. Henry

SHORT STORIES

I. ESTHER[]

[ From the Old Testament, Authorized Version.]

AUTHOR UNKNOWN

[ Setting . The events take place in Susa, the capital of Persia, in the reign of Ahasuerus, or Xerxes (485 465 B.C.). This foreign locale intensifies the splendid Jewish patriotism that breathes through the story from beginning to end. If the setting had been in Jerusalem, Esther could not have preached the noble doctrine, "When in Rome, don't do as Rome does, but be true to the old ideals of home and race."

Plot . "Esther" seems to me the best told story in the Bible. Observe how the note of empty Persian bigness versus simple Jewish faith is struck at the very beginning and is echoed to the end. Thus, Ahasuerus ruled over one hundred and twenty seven provinces, the opening banquet lasted one hundred and eighty seven days, the king's bulletins were as unalterable as the tides, the gallows erected was eighty three feet high, the beds were of gold and silver upon a pavement of red and blue and white and black marble, the money wrested from the Jews was to be eighteen million dollars, etc... Continue reading book >>




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