The anatomy and anatomising of the short story

Malcolm Redfellow

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I was quite taken by the Sunday Times reckoning its 'experts' could select '100 Short Stories to Love'. I'm still not sure why that was the chosen title/come-on, nor whether the piece is available on-line.

Still, I'd reckon there are eight or more Irish(y) writers included: Joyce's The Dead and William Trevor's The Ballroom of Romance making the cut for 'the five most popular short stories'. In both cases, worthy but a trifle surprising as choices: the Joyce because I'd reckon it has been done to death by the schoolmen; the Trevor because it is simply one of a number of his that deserve the dignity — and both because they tend to depict a somewhat skewed version of Irish life.

The 'spooky and gothic' section was (to my mind) the most convincing selection, starting with Ray Bradbury's There Will Come Soft Rains, a superb post-apocalyptic scenario — and that from as early as 1950. There's The Fall of the House of Usher — though the Poe I found worked best in class was The Tell-Tale Heart. Yet again, Dicken's The Signal-Man gets the nod: it is by far the best of the Mugby Junction compendium. Angela Carter's The Company of Wolves deserves its place, as does Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wall-Paper — though predictably the ST gets the title subtly wrong. Not entirely convinced Barbara of the House of Grebe is the absolute best of Thomas Hardy's: The Grave by the Handpost might do at least as well. I suppose of the sixteen in this list-ette, the one that gripes me is Conan Doyle's The Adventure of the Speckled Band, but then I'm less than enthused by Doyle as the great mystery writer (the Americans do it better?).

OK: to the other issue.

Across the dinner table my grandson demanded a definition of 'short story' and 'novella'. I sponged him off with my classroom one: the short story is a single episode, and has one central characterisation; while 'novella' is more of a publisher's term for something not up to the length of a full novel. Weak, but the best I could do in a hurry.

Thoughts and brickbats welcome.
 


owedtojoy

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I was quite taken by the Sunday Times reckoning its 'experts' could select '100 Short Stories to Love'. I'm still not sure why that was the chosen title/come-on, nor whether the piece is available on-line.

Still, I'd reckon there are eight or more Irish(y) writers included: Joyce's The Dead and William Trevor's The Ballroom of Romance making the cut for 'the five most popular short stories'. In both cases, worthy but a trifle surprising as choices: the Joyce because I'd reckon it has been done to death by the schoolmen; the Trevor because it is simply one of a number of his that deserve the dignity — and both because they tend to depict a somewhat skewed version of Irish life.

The 'spooky and gothic' section was (to my mind) the most convincing selection, starting with Ray Bradbury's There Will Come Soft Rains, a superb post-apocalyptic scenario — and that from as early as 1950. There's The Fall of the House of Usher — though the Poe I found worked best in class was The Tell-Tale Heart. Yet again, Dicken's The Signal-Man gets the nod: it is by far the best of the Mugby Junction compendium. Angela Carter's The Company of Wolves deserves its place, as does Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wall-Paper — though predictably the ST gets the title subtly wrong. Not entirely convinced Barbara of the House of Grebe is the absolute best of Thomas Hardy's: The Grave by the Handpost might do at least as well. I suppose of the sixteen in this list-ette, the one that gripes me is Conan Doyle's The Adventure of the Speckled Band, but then I'm less than enthused by Doyle as the great mystery writer (the Americans do it better?).

OK: to the other issue.

Across the dinner table my grandson demanded a definition of 'short story' and 'novella'. I sponged him off with my classroom one: the short story is a single episode, and has one central characterisation; while 'novella' is more of a publisher's term for something not up to the length of a full novel. Weak, but the best I could do in a hurry.

Thoughts and brickbats welcome.
I don't read much fiction or short stories but surely The Dead must be one of the greatest short stories ever written, and never mind the Academy. Short it his, but it captures a man's life in one blinding moment of truth.

Another Irish story, Frank O'Connor's Guests of the Nation, must surely get in there somewhere.
 

CatullusV

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Some of the greatest writers of short stories I've ever read were from South America. We don't in Ireland have a monopoly on the form.

That said, in terms ofconstruction, development and dialogue "The First Confession" is a favourite.

Did de Maupassant make the list?
 

Malcolm Redfellow

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I don't read much fiction or short stories but surely The Dead must be one of the greatest short stories ever written, and never mind the Academy. Short it his, but it captures a man's life in one blinding moment of truth.

Another Irish story, Frank O'Connor's Guests of the Nation, must surely get in there somewhere.
I didn't question the excellence of The Dead, merely that being so comprehensively a school-text ought to be a 'killer' in popular esteem.

I don't see any Frank O'Connor, which is further evidence of how specious an exercise the ST was perpetrating. And here am I remembering when importing O'Connor (Crab Apple Jelly and The Common Chord) through Dún Laoghaire was an affront to the nation.

@ CatullusV

Boule de Suif is one of the top five. I once had a dual-language de Maupassant collection. Now you remind me, it seems to be yet another that went AWOL.
 

gatsbygirl20

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I think the short story is a wonderful and neglected genre, and one that the Irish excel at.
One has to be a very skilled writer to make it work--whereas the "baggy monster" of the novel format is more forgiving

I am reading a wonderful book of short stories at the moment, each one a little polished gem - - Tessa Hadley's Bad Dreams And Other Stories.

Frank O'Connor... Joyce.... William Trevor.... Chekhov.... Alice Munro.... Maupassant

Love them.
 

Morgellons

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Raymond Carver, John Cheever, David Foster Wallace, Maeve Kelly.
 

Mercurial

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Across the dinner table my grandson demanded a definition of 'short story' and 'novella'. I sponged him off with my classroom one: the short story is a single episode, and has one central characterisation; while 'novella' is more of a publisher's term for something not up to the length of a full novel. Weak, but the best I could do in a hurry.

Thoughts and brickbats welcome.
I would have thought the difference is just one of length - short stories tend to be shorter than novellas.
 

redhead

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I think the short story is a wonderful and neglected genre, and one that the Irish excel at.
One has to be a very skilled writer to make it work--whereas the "baggy monster" of the novel format is more forgiving

I am reading a wonderful book of short stories at the moment, each one a little polished gem - - Tessa Hadley's Bad Dreams And Other Stories.

Frank O'Connor... Joyce.... William Trevor.... Chekhov.... Alice Munro.... Maupassant

Love them.
Agree, especially on Chekhov, and Noel Coward is often overlooked as a master of the short story.

There are also contemporary authors of wieldy tomes that have managed to produce excellent thematic short collections; Kate Atkinson's Not the End of the World and Rushdie's East West spring to mind, although I'm sure there are many more I can't think of right now.
 

A Voice

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I was quite taken by the Sunday Times reckoning its 'experts' could select '100 Short Stories to Love'. I'm still not sure why that was the chosen title/come-on, nor whether the piece is available on-line.

Still, I'd reckon there are eight or more Irish(y) writers included: Joyce's The Dead and William Trevor's The Ballroom of Romance making the cut for 'the five most popular short stories'. In both cases, worthy but a trifle surprising as choices: the Joyce because I'd reckon it has been done to death by the schoolmen; the Trevor because it is simply one of a number of his that deserve the dignity — and both because they tend to depict a somewhat skewed version of Irish life.

The 'spooky and gothic' section was (to my mind) the most convincing selection, starting with Ray Bradbury's There Will Come Soft Rains, a superb post-apocalyptic scenario — and that from as early as 1950. There's The Fall of the House of Usher — though the Poe I found worked best in class was The Tell-Tale Heart. Yet again, Dicken's The Signal-Man gets the nod: it is by far the best of the Mugby Junction compendium. Angela Carter's The Company of Wolves deserves its place, as does Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wall-Paper — though predictably the ST gets the title subtly wrong. Not entirely convinced Barbara of the House of Grebe is the absolute best of Thomas Hardy's: The Grave by the Handpost might do at least as well. I suppose of the sixteen in this list-ette, the one that gripes me is Conan Doyle's The Adventure of the Speckled Band, but then I'm less than enthused by Doyle as the great mystery writer (the Americans do it better?).

OK: to the other issue.

Across the dinner table my grandson demanded a definition of 'short story' and 'novella'. I sponged him off with my classroom one: the short story is a single episode, and has one central characterisation; while 'novella' is more of a publisher's term for something not up to the length of a full novel. Weak, but the best I could do in a hurry.

Thoughts and brickbats welcome.
A novella has a turning point; a pivotal moment. Short stories don't.
 

Dorcha

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I've always loved short stories.

On the horror side, I thought W.W. Jacob's "The Monkey's Paw" was the best I've read in that genre. Stephen King acknowledged that he couldn't write the subtle kind of horror. "The Yellow Wallpaper" mentioned above is another great story, about the gradual progress of madness, which reminded me (in some respects) of Gogol's "Diary of a Madman".

I bought a collection of de Maupassant short stories, after reading "The Hand" and "The Horla". Boy, was I disappointed!

"The Dead" is probably the best of Joyce's short pieces. I cannot say I am a fan of William Trevor, but I think Frank O'Connor was superb.

Although I have his collections "The Martian Chronicles" and "The Illustrated Man" Bradbury's stories are simply too folksy for my taste. Wasn't Bradbury in Youghal when he wrote the screenplay for "Moby Dick"?

The long short story "Flowers for Algernon" by Daniel Keyes was the most memorial science fiction story I ever read. Although Tom Godwin's story "The Cold Equations" is a close runner-up.

Of children's fiction I have never come across a better "read out loud" collection of stories than Joan Aiken's "A Necklace of Raindrops and Other Stories". Almost all of Aiken's stories are of a fantasy consisting of normality slightly skewed. Of her children's novels, the two I liked best were the first two in the "wolves" series, "The Wolves of Willoughby Chase" and "Black Hearts in Battersea" both with a wonderful atmosphere, which envelopes you as you read. Her later books in the series were not as good as the first two and, sadly, for the last in the series, she truncated her original idea as she felt she wouldn't live long enough to finish it.
 
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diaspora-mick

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Some of the greatest writers of short stories I've ever read were from South America. We don't in Ireland have a monopoly on the form.

That said, in terms ofconstruction, development and dialogue "The First Confession" is a favourite.

Did de Maupassant make the list?
Well asked ... another superb master of the conte ...
 

GDPR

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The most difficult and disciplined of prose forms.

You would be amazed at the amount of sheer sloppiness that gets by in novels.

There is no place to hide in the short story.
 

Malcolm Redfellow

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showbandmanager

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I read The Odesa Stories by Isaac Babel recently and would highly recommend it as a collection of short stories
 

mr. jings

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I was quite taken by the Sunday Times reckoning its 'experts' could select '100 Short Stories to Love'. I'm still not sure why that was the chosen title/come-on, nor whether the piece is available on-line.

Still, I'd reckon there are eight or more Irish(y) writers included: Joyce's The Dead and William Trevor's The Ballroom of Romance making the cut for 'the five most popular short stories'. In both cases, worthy but a trifle surprising as choices: the Joyce because I'd reckon it has been done to death by the schoolmen; the Trevor because it is simply one of a number of his that deserve the dignity — and both because they tend to depict a somewhat skewed version of Irish life.

The 'spooky and gothic' section was (to my mind) the most convincing selection, starting with Ray Bradbury's There Will Come Soft Rains, a superb post-apocalyptic scenario — and that from as early as 1950. There's The Fall of the House of Usher — though the Poe I found worked best in class was The Tell-Tale Heart. Yet again, Dicken's The Signal-Man gets the nod: it is by far the best of the Mugby Junction compendium. Angela Carter's The Company of Wolves deserves its place, as does Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wall-Paper — though predictably the ST gets the title subtly wrong. Not entirely convinced Barbara of the House of Grebe is the absolute best of Thomas Hardy's: The Grave by the Handpost might do at least as well. I suppose of the sixteen in this list-ette, the one that gripes me is Conan Doyle's The Adventure of the Speckled Band, but then I'm less than enthused by Doyle as the great mystery writer (the Americans do it better?).

OK: to the other issue.

Across the dinner table my grandson demanded a definition of 'short story' and 'novella'. I sponged him off with my classroom one: the short story is a single episode, and has one central characterisation; while 'novella' is more of a publisher's term for something not up to the length of a full novel. Weak, but the best I could do in a hurry.

Thoughts and brickbats welcome.
Any Ambrose Bierce or M.R. James stories in the spooky list? Those guys wrote some mini-masterpieces!

Also if there was a 'general misanthropy' or 'anti-war' section, Bierce's Civil War tales would have to figure prominently!

https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/17/ambrose-bierces-civil-war/
 
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gatsbygirl20

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Agree, especially on Chekhov, and Noel Coward is often overlooked as a master of the short story.

There are also contemporary authors of wieldy tomes that have managed to produce excellent thematic short collections; Kate Atkinson's Not the End of the World and Rushdie's East West spring to mind, although I'm sure there are many more I can't think of right now.

This thread is reminding me of stuff I had forgotten about
. I love Kate Atkinson 's Not The End Of The World

Any Ambrose Bierce or M.R. James stories in the spooky list? Those guys wrote some mini-masterpieces!

Also if there was a 'general misanthropy' or 'anti-war'section, Bierce's Civil War tales would have to figure prominently!

https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/17/ambrose-bierces-civil-war/
Love Ambrose Bierce..
 

Socratus O' Pericles

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"As I see it, a short story, if it is a good story, is like a child's kite -- a small wonder, a brief, bright moment."
-Seán Ó Faoláin.
 

Socratus O' Pericles

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In Ward No. 6, which no one should read late at night, Chekhov has given us a picture of an insane asylum, which, if the conditions there depicted are true to life, would indicate that some parts of Russia have not advanced one step since Gogol wrote Revizor... The fear of death, which to an intensely intellectual people like the Russians, is an obsession of terror, and shadows all their literature,—it appears all through Tolstoi's diary and novels,—is analysed in many forms by Chekhov. In Ward No. 6 Chekhov pays his respects to Tolstoi's creed of self-denial, through the lips of the doctor's favourite madman

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ward_No._6
 


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