The eighteenth century did not produce the first modern short story as it is known today as an art form, a clearly defined genre. Seldom during the century did a story have the firm story line and economy of effect that would justify labeling it a short story in the modern sense; a story was concerned with how an experience is valued and what difference it makes to someone, not merely what is said and done. A surprising number of literary historians agree that the birth of the genre did not occur until the early nineteenth century, in The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. (1819-1820), by Washington Irving.
As Benjamin Boyce states in his essay “Eighteenth-Century Short Fiction,” however, for “the present discussion ‘short fiction’ includes any kind of imaginative writing about people that contains or implies action and that does not exceed in length 12,000 words.” Within this definition can be found the vast variety of forms of short fiction that were produced by writers of the eighteenth century. These include fairy tales, Oriental tales, satirical adventure tales, the conte, epistolary fiction, rogue literature, sueño (or dream) fiction, essays, moral tracts, character sketches, the German Novelle, and the nouvelle or novelette (considered by some critics to be merely a stepchild of the novel, simply a short, uncomplicated novel; for this essay’s purposes, the novelette qualifies as...
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