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28 - Satirical Stories: Estrangement and Social Critique

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 November 2016

Sandie Byrne
Affiliation:
Kellogg College
Dominic Head
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham
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Summary

The widely held view that the short story is a better vehicle than the novel for the expression of alienation from or tension with dominant or normative social values deserves particular scrutiny in connection with satire. Indeed, it might be expected that the satirical short story would be especially suited to an oppositional or political stance. Satirical short stories of the nineteenth century, however, are rarely strongly or stridently adversarial.

Helmut Gerber asserts that writers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries observed, represented and commented on political and cultural events and movements, in ways ‘just as sensitive to the world they lived in as writers are now and just as concerned with discovering the appropriate artistic form for the raw material the times offered the artist’. He finds that writers of nineteenth-century short stories had ‘perhaps a more specific rebellious spirit’, since they had ‘satisfactory labels with which to identify an enemy: villa-ism, the President of the Immortals, Mrs Grundy, Fleet Street, Circulating, and all the other symbols of life-denying, nay-saying forces’.

These enemies are the targets of novels, a play, and non-fiction polemic rather than short stories (Thomas Hardy, Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1891/2); Thomas Morton, Speed the Plough (1798); George Moore, ‘Literature at Nurse, or Circulating Morals’ (1885)), and it is significant that they are ‘satisfactory labels’: abstractions, fictions and metonyms rather than named individuals or groups. Whilst satire flourished in the nineteenth century, in journalism, pamphlets and poetry, particularly in periodicals such as Punch, or the London Charivari (launched 1841), Fun (1861) and Judy, or the London Serio-comic Journal (1867), short stories of the period (with some notable exceptions) more often used parody, burlesque or pastiche. Characteristic of pastiche and travesty in periodicals is the two-part version of the stories in George Egerton's (Mary Chavelita Dunne Bright) Keynotes (1893), particularly ‘A Cross-Line’ in a series titled ‘She-notes’, by ‘Borgia Smudgiton’ with ‘Japanese fan [sic] de siècle illustrations by Mortarthurio Whiskersly’.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2016

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References

Barreca, Regina, ed., Fay Weldon's Wicked Fictions (Hanover, NH, and London: University Press of New Hampshire, 1994).
Faulkner, Peter, Angus Wilson: Mimic and Moralist (London: Secker and Warburg, 1980).
Finney, Brian, Martin Amis (London: Routledge, 2008).
Hays, Hunter M., Understanding Will Self (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2007).
Peach, Linden, Angela Carter, edition (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2009).

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