- Short Story Theory at a Crossroads, and: Re-reading the Short Story
In his "Preface" to Twentieth-Century Short Story Explication: 1961-1991, An Index, Warren Walker says: "Over the past three decades 16,691 stories by 2,304 authors worldwide have, to our knowledge, been explicated in major Western languages." In view of these numbers, it hardly seems necessary, as Clare Hanson says in the "Introduction" to Re-reading the Short Story, to "re-establish the short story as a legitimate subject for discussion." The short story has too frequently and mistakenly been called an underrated genre that is largely ignored by critics. In fact, some first-rate scholars have worked on it. Warren Walker, William Peden, Thomas Gullason, Charles May, Eugene Current-Garcia, and others have done splendid work on short stories during past decades. Lohafer, with Coming to Terms with the Short Story, and Hanson, with Short Stories and Short Fictions, 1880-1980, both have contributed to the criticism of the genre, and, in their most recent works (this time Lohafer is joined by Clarey), they look at it in terms of modern critical theory.
In the introduction to Section Three of Short Story Theory at a Crossroads, Lohafer observes about Austin Wright's article: "This is an essay that draws upon contemporary theory but relies, finally, on a timeless sensitivity to literary experience." The same might be said for the book as a whole, for Lohafer and Clarey are sensitive to previous treatments of the genre while, at the same time, they consider it in relation to such contemporary theories as reader response, discourse analysis, and so on. Particular emphasis on genre (the nature of the short story and what distinguishes it from other genres) is a recurrent feature of the book. Division titles indicate this emphasis, for example, "What Is a Short Story?" "How Has Story Evolved?" "How Is Story Processed?" Titles of articles also emphasize genre: "Recent Short Story Theories: Problems in Definition" by Norman Friedman; "On Defining the Short Story: The Genre Question" by Austin M. Wright; and "The Rise of the Short Story in the Hierarchy of Genres" by [End Page 337] Suzanne Ferguson. Among the number of interesting articles dealing with theory is Susan Lohafer's "Preclosure and Story Processing" where she declares, "This volume itself came about because a significant number of short story critics are pushing the boundaries, looking over fences, trying to redefine the nature and aims of their study. With Suzanne Hunter Brown, I believe discourse analysis is particularly suggestive for short story critics." With its fifteen articles and five introductions to them, Short Story Theory at a Crossroads does push at boundaries and examine the nature of the genre at the beginnings of the 1990s.
A shorter book with a similar emphasis, Re-reading the Short Story, is a collection of ten essays first presented at a symposium at the College of St. Paul and St. Mary, Cheltenham in 1986. Hanson points out in the "Introduction" that there are two groups of five essays each, "the first being theoretical in orientation, the second more text-based." Again, a recurrent concern in the first articles is genre—what makes a short story distinctive? In her article, "A Poetics of Short Fiction," Hanson herself gives definition to the genre by comparing its structure to that of dreams, referring often to Lacan's theories. The nature of the short story's shortness is analyzed in Nicole Ward Jouve's "Too Short for a Book?" and in Jean Pickering's "Time and the Short Story." Feminist criticism and the short story is the topic in Mary Eagleton's "Gender and Genre." Works by Alice Munro, Sylvia Plath, John McGahern, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Doris Lessing are topics examined in the next five articles. Among these, critical theory is also apparent. Genette's Narrative Discourse, for example, is the starting point for Robert Hampson...