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Outlines of English and American Literature|
The Short Story
by Long, William J.
|The period after 1876 has been called the age of fiction,
but "the short-story age" might be a better name for it, since the short
story is apparently more popular than any other form of literature and
since it has been developed here more abundantly than in any other
land,--possibly because America offers such an immense and ever-surprising
field to an author in search of a strange or picturesque tale. Readers of
the short story demand life and variety, and here are all races and tribes
and conditions of men, living in all kinds of "atmosphere" from the
trapper's hut to the steel skyscraper and from the crowded city slums to
the vast open places where one's companionship is with the hills or the
stars. Hence a double tendency in our recent stories, to make them
expressive of New World life and to make each story a reflection of some
peculiar type of Americanism,--one of the many types that here meet in a
The truth of the above criticism may become evident by reviewing the
history of the short story in America. Irving began with mere hints or
outlines of stories (sketches he called them) and added a few legendary
tales of the Dutch settlers on the Hudson. Then came Poe, dealing with the
phantoms of his own brain rather than with human life or endeavor. Next
appeared Hawthorne, who dealt largely in moral allegories and whose tales
are always told in an atmosphere of mystery and twilight shadows. Finally,
after the war, came a multitude of writers who insisted on dealing with our
American life as it is, with miners, immigrants, money kings, mountaineers,
planters, cowboys, woodsmen,--a host of varied characters, each speaking
the speech and typifying the customs or ideals of his particular locality.
It was these post-bellum writers who invented the so-called story of
local color (a story true to a certain place or a certain class of men),
which is America's most original contribution to the world's literature.