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Joseph M. Flora, ed. The English Short Story, 1880-1945: A Critical History. Boston: Twayne, 1985. 215 pp. $17.95.

This volume is the latest in the Twayne Critical History of the Short Story series, under the general editorship of William Peden. Like the other volumes it has excellent apparatus, here including bibliographies and lists of short story collections by authors not discussed as well as by those discussed in some detail in this volume. [End Page 802]

Flora's Introduction to the volume provides a fine capsule history of what was happening in England at a time when the short story had its greatest flowering in the United States. Indeed, if one restricts the list to important writers of short fiction, both discussed and not discussed in this volume, to authors born in England proper and removes the names of Joyce (Ireland), Mansfield (New Zealand), James (United States), Conrad (Poland), Kipling (India), Stevenson (Scotland), and Saki (Burma), one is left with the names of Lawrence, Woolf, Forster, Wodehouse, Coppard, Bates, and Pritchett. Then, if one reduces the list even further to major writers of prose fiction writing during this period, one is left with Lawrence, Woolf, and Forster, all better known for their novels than for their short fiction.

It is perhaps not fair to restrict lists in this way, however, because Flora makes the point that the period 1880-1945 includes the time when the sun never set on the British Empire. Still, by looking at birthplaces one might understand a little better why one chapter in this volume deals with the "exotic" short story and three chapters deal with authors either out of the mainstream of the modernist movement or happy with the comfortable limitations they set upon their own short fiction (Saki, the witty and sometimes bizarre; Wodehouse, the comic; Bates and Coppard, the plain and ordinary), all eschewing symbolism and metaphor and preferring direct representation of character and event. One can also understand why Lawrence gets a chapter to himself and why the author of this chapter on Woolf and Mansfield wonders if the two writers have been coupled together primarily for sexist reasons.

Scholars contributing essays to this volume (Robert Gish, Weldon Thornton, Joanne Trautmann Banks, Richard Harter Fogle, James Gindin, and William Peden) do an outstanding job, dealing not only with characteristic themes and techniques but also with critical questions difficult to approach and not yet satisfactorily answered.

Gish shows how exoticism is a theme important to short stories, but he makes the point clearly that many authors using the exotic for theme achieved their greatest distinction in the novel, that short fiction writers of this period but not discussed in this chapter also use the exotic as theme (Lawrence, Mansfield), and that exoticism as a literary mode is part of a much larger tradition of adventure narrative.

Thornton correctly makes the point that Lawrence's short pieces have seldom been dealt with as short stories proper; nor have they been placed adequately in any literary tradition. Like the modernists, Lawrence makes heavy use of symbolism; like many of his British contemporaries, Lawrence uses well-developed plotlines, though in Lawrence plot is never a primary interest.

Banks satisfies herself (and a reader) that there are real similarities between Woolf and Mansfield but striking differences as well, one being that Mansfield's stories have had considerable influence on the development of the short story and Woolf's practically none, because her novels have far outshadowed her stories. Still, Banks's comments suggest that Woolf's stories need to be examined and reexamined in the context of the short story as genre.

Fogle does his usual excellent job though he turns his critical skills to writers substantially different from those he usually treats: Saki and Wodehouse are a far cry from Hawthorne and Melville and the British Romantic poets. Fogle calls stories by Saki and Wodehouse "self-destructing artifacts" in that they are made [End Page 803] to be read quickly, "devoured as delectable tid-bits, concocted with an art that conceals art." But as self-destructing as the stories might be, it is clear that Fogle enjoyed the change of...


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