The Short Story1
Introduction. With the ferment of the seventies and eighties a new school of literature, that was effectively a denial of the genteel tradition: it was effectively a popularization--a taking it out of the severe realm of the Atlantic Monthly. It was an appeal to the middle class. From Henry James to Hamlin Garland a steady shift from right to left. This implied:
1. A shift from genteel to homely material.
2. A shift to realism from the earlier sentimentality. This genteel tradition constantly cropping out anew--in Margaret Deland, in a changed form in Zona Gale. It has been strongest in New England--from Rose Terry Cooke through Sarah Orne Jewett to Mary Wilkins.
The short story commonly believed to be peculiarly representative of our genius--the stripping-away of the superfluous and the love of technical refinement. Derived from Poe and Hawthorne: both artists yet far removed from the tendencies which have controlled the development of the short story since.
Theme. The American short story has dealt largely with the two great themes of all romance, love and adventure. The form constitutes the great staple--is largely provided by women for women. The handling of this love theme reveals the inevitable shift from the genteel tradition to middle-class efficiency, and the spirit of the change is revealed in the changing dress of the heroine. In the seventies, crinoline, innumerable flounces of white muslin, lace parasols--no tan, no freckles, but a gentle pallor. Such dress and such heroines will exude sentiment. It will concern itself with atmosphere. Action brisk and efficient will appear unladylike, almost vulgar. What a change when the heroine clothes herself in a silk flour-sack--showing silk stockings, bare arms and neck--cultivating tan and freckles, bobbing her hair, going in for automobiles and golf and tennis! The older heroine dwelt in a world of sentiment without sex; the present-day heroine lives in a world of sex interest without sentiment. The more flounces in life and literature, the less the animal is exposed. Hence action has superseded sentiment--plot has superseded atmosphere. The hero becomes a Hart, Schaffner and Marx young business man and the middle-class note is struck loudly in the honk of the motor-car. The genteel tradition is laid away with the flowers.
Major Influences during the Sixties. Through the fifties and sixties literature uncertain and halting. The style largely set by old-world fashions. Three in particular:
1. Influence of Charlotte and Emily Bronte. A sort of sentimental and mawkish passion. Stilted style, as in Harriet Beecher Stowe. This fell in with the Irving note of the picturesque and was exploited in Godey's Lady's Book.
2. Influence of Dickens. At its height in the fifties: an emphasis upon the vulgar--plain and homely characters. Exploited in the Atlantic by Lowell. So Rose Terry Cooke in Miss Lucinda (1861).
3. Influence of the French realistic movement: Balzac, Flaubert. Only a faint beginning. Still a lot of romance stuff but given a local color and garnished with humor.
Counter Tendencies. The inevitable development of the middleclass city and the middle-class magazine, persistently affected by certain throw-backs to an older American tradition. America is the city today, but day before yesterday it was still country, and in the backgrounds of our minds is a country setting and love of simple people. Three main tendencies:
1. The discovery of the local. The picturesqueness of the strange and remote in character, manners, speech. The charm of dialect and interest in out-of-the-way places. This a reaction from too much pavement and the rubbing-down of individual differences from city contact. "Characters" are bred in isolated places. This the dominant note in the short story from 1870 to 1900: to follow it from Bret Harte on is almost to write a history of the short story. It does not dominate the longer story. Constance Fenimore Woolson.
2. The discovery of "human interest." The feeling that men in the rough--with the bark on--may prove more interesting than the products of an artificial civilization. This had been spread by Dickens and by certain of the Atlantic writers.
3. The growing interest in realism. At first confused with the commonplace-so Pattee in his comment on Rose Terry Cooke's Miss Lucinda. A good deal of this earlier work is only another form of romance--little affected by the rising French movement. Realism was to come slowly and late. All three of these made against the genteel tradition.
Henry James. His position peculiar. From his youth deracine--his father hated American vulgarity, American journalism, and would not permit his son to take root. He grew up with an aristocratic conception of civilization--his sole interest lay in such civilization, and the manners of the polite society of that civilization. No other American has so hated and feared contamination from the vulgar. He was thus the last flower of the Genteel Tradition, transplanted to an environment more congenial. As the middle-class became more clamorous, he withdrew to the Continent, to England, where the older ideas still lingered. There in the spirit of the realist he wrote with refined art and persistent detachment--even to a punctilious and princely refinement. As Mr. Howells says, "To enjoy his work, to feel its rare excellence, both in conception and expression, is a brevet of intellectual good form."
His World. Always that of the spender, of assured position. His main interest lies in women; their refinement appeals to his refinement--no flappers or vulgarians but elegantly gowned women who never did the family washing. He is concerned with that which is dearest to the heart of aristocracy--standards of excellence. And in this he was true to his conception of civilization, for civilization begins after a competence has been assured. Those who are struggling to acquire have not the leisure, the inclination, for civilization. Hence Daisy Miller is a type of much of his work--the contrast between civilized Europe and uncivilized America, the one with standards of culture and manners and the other vulgarian. And his interest in American women results from the fact that they alone in America care for civilization and are painfully seeking to achieve it.
His Realism. The beginnings of the movement which has been called psychological realism, concerning itself with motives and processes of thought--the inner life. Developed by Bourget and far more fully by Dorothy Richardson in such a book as Pilgrimage, the inner life of Miriam Henderson in many volumes. Far removed from later psychological fiction founded on Freudian theory--as in D. H. Lawrence, Sherwood Anderson. Again the genteel tradition dealing with people who in the main have genteel impulses only. James held in horror this later naturalism--it was merely vulgarian.
The Spirit of the Local. Into this prim world with its incipient realism came the note of the Far West: Mark Twain and Bret Harte, who set a new style--the romantic, picturesque, humaninterest story. This is a part of the Pike County idea of literature--a native rogue--tale but with touches of sentiment and shortened to effective form. This followed by Eggleston's Hoosier Schoolmaster (1871) and this in turn by the flood of local work of the eighties. The most notable the work of Charles Egbert Craddock, Joel Chandler Harris, Sarah Orne Jewett, and Mary Wilkins. The first discovered the hill people, the second discovered the Negro--his primitive folk-poetry. In the work of the last, a struggle between the genteel tradition and realism--and the final triumph of the latter.
1. Lecture notes. This subject was not included in the contents, but contains some matter of interest.--Publisher.