Theory of Short Fiction Summary

Summary

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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.

German author...

(The entire section is 625 words.)

The Short Story as a Romantic Genre

The basic romantic nature of the short story, both in its focus on unusual events and on the subjectivity of the author, was strongly voiced during the later part of the nineteenth century when Ambrose Bierce entered into the argument then raging over the romance versus the novel form. In his attack on the William Dean Howells school of fiction in his essay “The Short Story,” Bierce said, “to them nothing is probable outside the narrow domain of the commonplace man’s commonplace experience.”

Other short-story writers have noted this same romantic characteristic of the form. Henry James said he rejoiced in the anecdote, which he defined as something that “oddly happened” to someone. More recently Flannery...

(The entire section is 342 words.)