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Reading Old Short Stories

Expanding the Universe; A universe named NGC 5584; taken from the Hubble spacecraft

Paperback Collections of Short Stories

Recently, at my place to stay, I came across a old much used paperback edition of short stories edited by the English writer, V.S. Pritchett. More formally known as Sir Victor Sawdon Pritchett, the British author was born in 1900 and lived until 1997, making th man an excellent chronicler of the twentieth century. Much to the credit of V.S. Pritchett, the editor, he only included one story by himself. It is called ‘Many Will Be Disappointed’. Even though this English writer, who preferred the title VSP, was much heralded for his short story writing, I found some other of the literary tales more enjoyable.

A Good Historical Survey

This collection begins in early 19th century America with works by Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe. Every writer should read ‘The Fall of the Housen of Usher’ just to understand how the English language has changed over the centuries. Not only does the story present an archetypal image of the ultimate haunted house, but Poe paints a verbal picture with a flowery style of prose seldom used today.

What’s Inside 

Other stories that caught my attention were ‘Charity’ by Eudora Welty and ‘Hills Like Elephants’ by Ernest Hemingway.  Charity is a charming little tale about a visit to a nursing home by a young girl. The story’s simple low key humor is quite remarkable. Hemingway is often seen as a turning point in modern literature. That is to say his use of dialogue to drive a story forward, breaks from past techniques that did not place so much emphasis on the dialogue. As a contrast, visit Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, which relies primarily on description to relay the tale. On a final note, there is Ambrose Bierce’s Coup de Grace, a chilling tale set on a Civil War battlefield. Here setting is paramount to the grisley story.

Flash Fiction Comparison

It would be an interesting side note to compare these classics of modern literature to the Flash Fiction and other forms of very short fiction that seemed to have come in vogue since the development of the internet. These short story writers often go for the very short tale and first impression to communicate their thoughts and experiences about modern life. These contemporary “slices-of-life” are a far cry from the tales from the old masters that are often put into anthologies.

2 Responses to “Reading Old Short Stories”

  1. I have a burgeoning fondness for short stories. Not only are they convenient to read (I can bust through one between work and dinner), but a well-written short story can pack an even stronger punch than a well-written novel. What the classic short stories have that internet flash fiction often lacks is the focused message on a single theme. It’s beautiful the way every word points to the underlying message. They are works of art and take an impressive level of mastery to execute well.

    • Nowadays, it seems to be easier to read a short story than a novel. This relates to time available for reading, but also alludes to – as you mentioned in your comment – the succinct and compact meaning of the story. Flash fiction is fun to read and fun to write, but has not so far developed the depth of meaning found in a short story or even a poem. Thanks for you comment.

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