The common critical assumption is that the short story was first recognized as a literary genre with unique characteristics in the 1840’s with Edgar Allan Poe’s discussions of a “unified effect” of “the tale proper.” However, Poe did not develop these ideas out of thin air; short prose fiction was a topic of critical discussion in Germany in the decades preceding Poe’s influential assertions.
Friedrich Schlegel was the first to theorize generically about short fiction, which, in keeping with the precedent established by Giovanni Boccaccio and Miguel de Cervantes, he called novelle. Schlegel says the form usually focuses on the oral telling of a new, unknown story, which should arouse interest in and of itself alone, without connection to “the nations, the times, the progress of humanity, or even the relation to culture itself.” Schlegel also suggested that although the anecdotal basis of short fiction may be trivial or its subject matter slight, its manner or way of telling must be appealing. One corollary of this focus on “manner” rather than “matter,” Schlegel noted, was that the narrator takes on a more significant role in short fiction—a shift related to the general trend in Romantic poetry toward a lyric point of view. The first effect of this trend, in such writers as Washington Irving, was an increased emphasis on the style of telling; later with Poe, it shifted emphasis to the direct involvement of the narrator in the tale that he or she tells.
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