The Early Nineteenth Century: 1800-1840 - Short Fiction Additional Summary

Germany and the Modern Short Story

Previous discussion has shown how the early nineteenth century American short story developed essentially from a synthesis of the best that two divergent traditions offered. The Americans’ model for the essay-sketch tradition came primarily from England; for contemporary Americans and Englishmen, however, the dominant written model for the other strain, that of the tale tradition, consisted chiefly of the literary Märchen (folktales) and Novellen (longer and relatively more realistic stories) of then-fashionable German writers. As was earlier noted, for example, the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, achieved vast and immediate popularity by publishing short narratives based on their researches into Germanic folklore. Irving based “Rip Van Winkle” on a tale in a similar collection by Otmar. Such stories are called “fairy tales” in English, although often they contain no fairies at all but witches, trolls, giants, or ogres. What they all do contain is emphasis on a striking incident or series of incidents that take precedence over character, setting, and all other elements. In addition, as true folktales, they share a common origin in folk traditions; each, in this sense, is (despite the inevitable variations incorporated by each individual narrator) a very old story.

In contrast to these traditional folktales there developed in Germany a tradition of Novellen. The term Novellen derives from the Italian term novella, which signifies “a small new thing.” The sense of the word “new” in Novellen and novella (and in the French term nouvelle) might be taken to mean “unusual or surprising,” but in fact it seems most probably to have developed to distinguish a basically or at least largely original story from an essentially traditional story. The Novellen do tend to have a relatively more complex and realistic social background, but otherwise any artificial distinction between Märchen and Novellen becomes quite problematic when there is in both genres of German tale a fondness for particular...

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Russia and the Modern Short Story

The origins of the Russian short story, like those of Russian literature itself, most scholars trace to Alexander Pushkin. Before Pushkin, in prose as in verse, there were two predominant “literary” strains in Russia: on one hand, a vigorous tradition of oral folklore and, on the other, a written tradition dominated by foreign models, especially by the French. In fact, during Pushkin’s time, French was the language affected by the elite; Pushkin’s education was essentially French, his early reading emphasized French literature, and, startling though the fact may be, the father of Russian literature began his career as a writer in the French language.

As with the great American and European short-story writers, however, although his formal education emphasized polite written literature, Pushkin was informally introduced to a rich folkloric tradition of oral tales bursting with sharply defined characters, improbable incidents, and marvelous settings—the Russian narodnye skazki (folktales) and volsebnye skazki (fairy tales).

Pushkin began as a poet, and a long-verse narrative, Ruslan i Lyudmila (1820; Ruslan and Liudmila, 1936), was his first great success. He went on, however, to produce masterpieces in all the major genres—the play Boris Godunov (wr. 1824-1825, pb. 1831; English translation, 1918), the brilliant verse novel Evgeny Onegin (1825-1832, 1833; Eugene Onegin, 1881), and, most important for the purposes of this discussion, Povesti Belkina (1831; Russian Romance, 1875; better known as The Tales of Belkin, 1947), a framed group of five dramatic and romantic short stories—but his masterpiece of short fiction is The Queen of Spades. By Poe’s standards the piece is long (about ten thousand words, it is divided into chapters) and rambling, with a need for tighter focus, but it may be considered the first great short story in Russian literature.

Normally considered the second...

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France and the Modern Short Story

Anomalies and paradoxes abound in the short story. One is that the French, celebrated for their emphasis on logic and rationality (or alternately reviled for their penchant for contentious rationalization), have spent much less energy defining their basic critical terms for short fiction, conte and nouvelle, than people such as the Germans and the Americans have expended analyzing their own. Yet the French have among the world’s richest traditions in short fiction generally and in the short story in particular.

Conte, apparently the older French term, seems quite close to the word “tale”—on one hand connoting emphasis on a dramatic (often supernatural or fantastic) central incident or...

(The entire section is 1222 words.)