Coppard, A. E. 1878-1957
(Full name Alfred Edgar Coppard) English short story writer and poet.
Coppard is recognized as an innovator of the English short story form. In an era when the norm for short fiction was the formula piece written for magazines, Coppard introduced a new model, rich in English rural traditions and poetic in mood and style. As a result of his influence, the short story was reappraised as a significant literary form.
Born into a working-class family, Coppard grew accustomed to a life of hard work. When he was nine his father died, and he was removed from school and apprenticed to a London tailor. His education thereafter was self-acquired and included reading the works of such writers as Geoffrey Chaucer, William Shakespeare, John Keats, and Walt Whitman. When Coppard took a clerical position in Oxford, he befriended a number of literature students at the university, including Roy Campbell, William Butler Yeats, and Aldous Huxley; these acquaintances stimulated him to write. In 1919, having published several stories in literary journals, Coppard left his job and moved to a small cottage in the woods where he could write full time. His first collection of stories, Adam and Eve and Pinch Me, was published in 1921, with many more volumes of short fiction and poetry to follow. A collection of his works, The Collected Tales of A. E. Coppard, was published in 1948. Coppard died in 1957 at the age of seventy-nine, shortly before his autobiography, It's Me, O Lord!, was published.
Major Works of Short FictionCoppard's early prose style reflects the influence of Anton Chekhov and Guy de Maupassant, masters of the realistic short story, while his later works reveal a sophistication reminiscent of the stories of Henry James. His early works, which many consider his best, are particularly noted for their vivid depictions of peasant characters and rural settings, as evidenced by such acclaimed stories as "Ninepenny Flute" and "The Higgler." Coppard sought to recreate the oral tradition of the folk tale—the story heard rather than read—and his use of vernacular speech is considered deftly accurate yet lyrical. He is also noted for the air of fantasy and strangeness with which he infuses certain stories, such as "Silver Circus." The supernatural "Adam and Eve and Pinch Me" and "Dusky Ruth" have been praised as being among his best writing.
Although Coppard's popular audience grew slowly and remained fairly small, his early work was enthusiastically praised by reviewers and fellow writers who credited him with revitalizing and legitimizing the English short story. Coppard's reputation began to decline in the 1930s, however, with the publication of Nixey's Harlequin, which was thought by some to be inferior to his earlier works. Critics suggested that Coppard's stories were becoming pretentious and that his tendency toward rambling, unfocused narratives was becoming more pronounced. Still, most commentators agree that Coppard made great contributions to the short story form, particularly with his development of lyrical prose. C. Henry Warren, describing the poetical nature of Coppard's tales, wrote that "they are told with all the sensitiveness of a poet's power over word and image and they evoke one's imagination to a larger scope than their immediate theme, by unobrusively widening out from the particular to the universal."