Framework Of Short Stories And Fiction English Literature Essay
Story cycle, story sequence, story composite, integrated story collection and composite novel. Scholars disagree about the most appropriate term to describe certain primarily twentieth-century works that simultaneously exhibit the qualities of both a collection of short stories and a novel. However, all agree that the genre-which, generally speaking, I will call the integrated collection-did not suddenly emerge Venus-like from the ocean of literary history. Rather, this curious hybrid possesses a rich and varied past, full of notable antecedents that serve as a long foreground for what Maggie
Dunn and Ann Moms have identified as its "mature (i.e. twentieth-century) form."
As early as ancient times, Homer's epic poems The Iliad and the Odyssey (ninth century B.C.) exhibited characteristics of both the short story collection and the novel within one volume. The former work, set during the tenth year of the Trojan War, features a novelistic frame: "It begins with a ransom and an argument (I), a ceremonial aggregation of forces (II), and a duel (III), and ends with a comparable sequence in reverse" (Silk 39). In between these mirrored portions of the text are relatively autonomous sections, such as the episode in Book IX, where Odysseus, Ajax, and Phoenix go to Achilles in an attempt to re-enlist his services for the Greek cause. Individual "stories" like this possess "a kind of self-sufficiency which makes it possible to read them as miniature wholes" rather than some necessary piece of a larger unit (Silk 39). But the whole is still important; The Iliad "must be read as a whole to see how the parts are balanced and articulated amongst themselves" (Rouse 67). The later work, the Odyssey, features a dual overarching plot about Odysseus, a hero returning home from the Trojan War, and about his wife Penelope, who staves off assiduous suitors who believe the great warrior is dead. These plots, however, are broken up into pans, such as "the adventures of Odysseus", the encounter with Cyclops, the year-long detainment on the island of Circe, the journey into the underworld, to name but a few. These episodes and others like them "function as individual tales within the framework of his journey back to Ithaca" (Dunn and Moms 21).
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The Panchatantra and the Divine Comedy demonstrate an aesthetic concern for the component parts of a work as well as for the whole, the most significant examples of this dual focus can be found in the more elaborate and intricately framed tales of the latter middle Ages. The fourteenth century, in fact, might well be considered the golden age of such narratives, as evidenced by the two most enduring examples of the form: Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron (1351-1353) and Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales (c. 1387-1400). Boccaccio's work is, according to Joy Hambuechen Potter, extraordinarily complex, consisting of five different frames or "concentric 'worlds'". These include:
Decameron as experienced by the reader. I World outside of Boccaccio's written word, inhabited by Boccaccio and his readers.
Tale Told by Boccaccio about the Decameron. / World of ladies whom Boccaccio consoles with his tales.
Tale told by Boccaccio about society during the plague. / World of society devastated by the plague.
Tale Told by Boccaccio about the group [of men and women escaping pestilence-filled Florence. / Idyllic world of group.
Tales told by group. / World of the group.
Also during this important century, women writers (primarily) wrote what Dunn and Moms term "patchwork composites." volumes comprised of individual stories and sketches artfully sewn together. "[L]ike the cloth-pieces of a quilt, the text-pieces...typically reflect an aesthetic emphasizing juxtaposition and repetition with variation", qualities that are quite similar to those unifying twentieth-century integrated collections. Among these works are Mary E. Wilkins Freeman's Understudies (1901) and Six Trees (1903) as well as more "improvisational" works such as Frances E.
Watkins Harper's Sketches of Southern Life (1891) and Susie King Taylor's Reminiscences of My Life: A Black Woman's Civil War Memoirs (1902) (Dunn and Moms 25).
This kind of innovative literary work was not merely an American phenomenon but an international one. In England, Charles Dickens inaugurated his prolific career with Sketches by Boz: (1833-35), short works initially serialized in a popular magazine of the time and exhibiting "a certain redundancy of character theme, and subject in the papers in their gathered form" (Grillo 92). George Eliot, known primarily for her lengthy novels wrote Scenes of Clerical Life (1858), a collection that "contains three stories realistically depicting the lives of the clergy" (Mann 4-5). In Russia, Ivan Turgenev wrote A Sportsman's Sketches (1847-1851), a work that would influence famous twentieth-century integrated collections by Sherwood Anderson (Winesburg, Ohio) and Ernest Hemingway (in Our Time). In Turgenev's volume, the narrator crosses the Russian countryside and either tells stories of the individuals he meets or listens to tales told by others about these people. In France, Alphonse Daudet wrote Letters from My Mill (1870), "a collection of character studies, travel accounts, and anecdotal tales that celebrate the enchantment of Provence" (Dunn and Morris 28). All of the individual works are given coherence by the frame, which concerns "the author's ... retreat to this quiet place [in Provence] to write" this volume. Gustav Flaubert wrote the tersely titled Trots Conies (1877), a collection that has "no frame devices or obvious connections," yet exhibits a kind of design through the use of "juxtaposition" and superimposition" (Dunn and Moms 28).
In the twentieth century, writers often broke new ground, tackling new subjects, employing a new style, and, in general, dispensing with traditional framing devices, relying instead on the reader's ability to perceive connections among juxtaposed works.
The first notable example is Gertrude Stein's Three Lives (1909), a work whose title and structure deliberately hearken back to Flaubert's Trots Conies, written some forty years earlier. Unlike many pee-twentieth century works-those ranging from the Panchatantra to Charles W. Chesnutt's The Conjure Woman-Stein's three tales are not held together by a frame, but rather by the common gender of Anna, Melanctha, and Lena. According to Edmund Wilson, Stein explores three different types of women: "the self-sacrificing Anna, who combines devotion with domination; the dreamy and passive Lena, for whom it is natural to allow herself to be used and effaced from life by other lives; and the passionate and complex Melanctha", the most assertive of the dun and. not surprisingly, given prominence not only in terms of her story's length but by her position at the center of the collection. A much more frequently cited example of the form is James Joyce's well-known Dubliners (1914). It too lacks a frame; nevertheless, the stories contained within are intricately woven together. Most obviously, they are bound together by their common locale of Dublin, "a mythic kingdom, a microcosm, not unlike Winesburg, Ohio" (Ingram 33). The stories also clearly progress from those concerning young protagonists to those featuring older ones (Mann 26). What is more, each work shares a similar three-part structure, "the first serving as an introduction and establishing the story's general tone, the second containing action or a situation in which the character is acted upon, and the third providing comment on the protagonist's world" (Mann 31-
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32). Lastly, all of the works give of an "aura of paralysis" (Dunn and Morris 40), one that entraps each of the characters in the book.
Only a few years later in America, Sherwood Anderson published an integrated collection about the town of his youth. Winesburg, Ohio (1919), which has been termed the "quintessential" example of the form (Kennedy "Towards a Poetics" 11), concerns the "grotesques" who inhabit a small Midwestern town and the artist/protagonist, George Willard, who matures in that environment and, in the end, leaves for a life in the modern world. Thematically, the wore treats the loneliness and isolation that, ironically, abound in the small community, and this sense of disconnection is distinctly modem.
Stylistically, the works are both a collection of independent stories as well as an aesthetic whole. Also important in a consideration of the modem manifestation of the genre is Ernest Hemingway's intriguing In Our Time (1925). Anderson was one of Hemingway's mentors, and the younger writer's book is similar to Winesburg in that many of the stories are discrete entities that simultaneously work together to tell the story of Nick Adams' childhood and then his spiritual reconstruction after the traumatic experience of world war. But In Our Time has some important differences as well, most notably the interchapters, short sketches that are placed in between the individual stories to serve, as Hemingway said, "to give the picture of the whole between examining it in detail" (Selected Letters 128).
In addition, Nick Adams himself (unlike George Willard) quite suddenly disappears from the bulk of the stories in the second half of the collection, something that coincides (significantly) with the portrayal of his wounding in one of the interchapters. This is not to say that the protagonist is not as important as George Willard is to Anderson's integrated collection: rather, Hemingway has just developed what might be called a collective protagonist, "a group of central characters who, through different individuals, are generally similar' (Dunn and Morris 64-65).
There is much evidence of careful design throughout the work, beginning in which "characters are arranged in associations easiest to remember, associations of class, alliance, and dependency endemic to medieval society" (Howard 150). What is more, tales are arranged in such a way that one is often "answered" by another. One example of this is the Miller's famous parody of the work's first tale, presented by the noble Knight. The Miller's ribald response features a -parallel situation" (complete with passages stolen from the previous story) "prompted by motives of a wholly different character" (Howard 238). In addition to this "pairing" strategy, there is a more substantial structure consisting of grouped tales within the larger collection of all the tales. For example, the first sequence of The Canterbury Tales features narratives about human conduct conveyed by the Knight, Miller, Reeve, and Cook. Although each is a separate tale, they form a coherent whole because, taken together, they suggest "a degenerative movement" in a number of ways. As Donald Howard observes, "In social class, we move from the behavior of princes and knights, to that of minor clerks, peasants, tradesmen, and finally, an apprentice." In setting we move from the ancient world, fabled and ideal, to the country, from there to urban low-life". In sum, the knight's vision of the world is one of order, but the tales which follow present an increasing chaos.
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