Hortense Calisher described the short story as “an apocalypse, served in a very small cup,” thus indicating her Jamesian penchant for intense psychological portrayals presented within the aesthetic confines of brevity of style and economy of emotional impact. After “A Box of Ginger,” her first published story, appeared in The New Yorker in 1948, critics praised Calisher’s writings for their complexity of theme, verbal intricacy, and strength and multiplicity of evocation. She has been compared with Henry James and Gustave Flaubert in her passion for precision and craftsmanship and with Marcel Proust in her motifs of the many-sided psychological levels of human experience.
Calisher has been described as a spokesperson for the “middle ground” of the ordinary, rather than the extreme, the unusual, or the bizarre. Her most convincing characters are, by and large, observers of the mysteries of human existence, seeking viable modes of action and belief in their own individual progressions toward the development of self-identity. The existential themes of choice and commitment and the search for meaning through self-definition are pervasive in her writings, as is the influence of phenomenology. Her short stories, in fact, can be seen as exemplifications in art of Edmund Husserl’s definition of the phenomenological epoch (suspension of judgment) as the capacity of a single moment of experience to unfold itself into endless...
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