Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The style of “The Diamond Lens” primarily depends on O’Brien’s manipulation of the point of view of a narrator who is so obsessed with his own desire and quasi-scientific aims that the entire world of the story centers on his obsession. The technique is a common one with such Romantic writers of the early nineteenth century as E. T. A. Hoffmann, Ludwig Tieck, and Poe. The language of the story suggests a narrator who is less an actual person than he is a convention of point of view itself—a stereotypical representation of the ultimate Romantic dream, here trivialized by a clever craftsman of the short story who knows how to capitalize on a typical short-story theme but who does not manage to elevate that theme and technique beyond popular slick fiction. It was precisely such stories as O’Brien’s that gave the short-story genre during the late nineteenth century the unsavory reputation of being little more than a vehicle for facile technique. What marks the difference between O’Brien’s story and the most powerful stories of Poe and Bierce is that O’Brien never achieves either the profound sense of the Romantic ideal of these writers or their keen sense of the particular characteristics of the short-story form.