restricted access The Small Canvas: An Introduction to Dreiser's Short Stories, and: Sherwood Anderson: L'Impuissance Créatrice (review)
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Reviewed by
Joseph Griffin. The Small Canvas: An Introduction to Dreiser's Short Stories. Cranbury: Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 1985. 172 pp. $24.50.
Claire Bruyère. Sherwood Anderson: L'Impuissance Créatrice. Paris: Klincksieck, 1985. 370 pp. No price given.

Discouraged as he was about his ability to master the short-story form, Dreiser returned to it repeatedly because he wanted to create "pictures of life" of smaller scope than that afforded by the novel. He felt that, as well as a novel, a short story could suggest the finiteness of man in the midst of infinity, "a land, a people, a period, a mood," could dramatize the individual against his background of possibilities and limitations and present a full and satisfactory picture of life.

In The Small Canvas, Joseph Griffin discusses Dreiser's artistry in the shorter form and shows that the lack of popularity of Dreiser's short stories was because, like his novels, they questioned rather than glorified traditional values and even upset the moral and social code of the day. After an introduction describing Dreiser's early career as a writer of short fiction and the difficulties he encountered getting his stories accepted by magazine editors, Griffin analyses "Free" and Other Stories (1918) in Chapter Two, Chains (1927) in Chapter Three, and Dreiser's later stories (1929-1938) in Chapter Four. Chapter Five is devoted to tying together the various themes that run through the stories, and to evaluating Dreiser's skill and craftsmanship in the genre. Before discussing any story, Griffin provides information concerning its publication and composition, as well as relevant biographical data, and includes early reviewers' comments.

In Part One of Sherwood Anderson, Claire Bruyère discusses Anderson's doubts concerning his ability to write, examining his feelings concerning artistic creation as a whole and his opinion of the work of others. In Part Two, she shows how his obsession with disorder influenced his vision of American society and of Americans and their self-image, then examines how he attempted to solve the literary problems created by his awareness of disorder. Part Three is devoted to a discussion of immaturity: the normal immaturity of childhood and adolescence; the immaturity in particular of American men, who never mature psychologically and reach old age without having ever become emotional adults; and, finally, the immaturity of the blacks who remain emotionally young and who seem able to catalyze the white man's anxiety, thus helping him to mature. Part Four examines the themes of helplessness (impotence) and flight, linking them to social problems. She also shows how Anderson successfully reinvents the "grotesque."

Both books are excellent, detailed studies. Although their approaches are radically different, they both cast a new and interesting light on the writers they study. Both books also assume that the reader is familiar with the works of the author under discussion and do not provide plot summaries. Both are highly readable and will be useful to scholars, teachers, and students alike. Finally, I should like to suggest that an English translation of Claire Bruyère's book would be a useful addition to the somewhat scanty body of critical work on Anderson. [End Page 315]

Jacqueline Tavernier-Courbin
University of Ottawa
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