Introduction (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
Until the early nineteenth century, short prose fiction was primarily a vehicle for didactic messages, often religious in nature. Romantic writers, wishing to preserve the old values without the religious dogma and mythological trappings, secularized the old stories by presenting them as basic psychic processes. The ballad tale that had previously existed as received story now became infused with the subjectivity of the teller. The famous collaboration of William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge in Lyrical Ballads (1798) marked the beginning of this shift.
Wordsworth’s task was to choose situations and scenes from everyday life and by a process of defamiliarization suggest the spiritual value latent within them. Coleridge, on the other hand, was to take supernatural stories or situations and give them the semblance of reality by making them projections of the artist’s psyche. Often in these “lyrical ballads,” the story element was subsumed by the lyrical element because of their emphasis on the poet’s subjective impression. The German Romantics, from whom Coleridge gained many of his critical assumptions, however, were more committed to stories with the lyrical element concealed behind the hard outlines of the event. American writers, also strongly influenced by the Germans, similarly turned from Romantic poetry to Romantic tale. The short story as developed by Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, and Nathaniel Hawthorne was the...
(The entire section is 237 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!