Introduction (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
By the year 1800 various Western literatures could boast isolated examples of works which, if they were published today, would almost certainly be called short stories in the modern sense of the term. These works are in one sense rather like those hypothetical Phoenicians or Greeks who stumbled onto America before Columbus. In the final analysis Columbus is celebrated not so much for being the first as for being the first to make much historical difference. By the same token, the originator of the modern short story is the writer whose first short story made the most dramatic difference to the genre and to subsequent literary history. By 1800, although well on the way, that person had not yet arrived. What was found then in short fiction throughout the Western world was a dizzying variety of forms, traditions, genres, and subgenres that sometimes approached quite closely the modern short story, which in fact seemed to have produced splendid isolated examples, as in Richard Steele’s The Spectator, but which—although generating fine literature according to other criteria—finally fell short of a consistent vision, a full conception of the short story as it is thought of today.
This short narrative current in the year 1800 can be arbitrarily divided in as many different ways as might a custard pie, but the most meaningful division would seem to be into the broad categories of work in the tale tradition on the one hand and in the essay-sketch...
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