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35 - Short Story Futures

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 November 2016

Julian Murphet
Affiliation:
University of New South Wales
Dominic Head
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham
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Summary

Post-book?

The happy fortunes of the modern short story form since the late nineteenth century were underwritten by very specific material and technical circumstances. What Benedict Anderson has aptly called print capitalism underwent significant recalibrations as the larger industrial economies entered into their imperial-monopoly phases, not least the introduction of photomechanical reproduction technology and, with it, the launch of magazine and periodical culture and the penny press. Nowhere was this more the case than in the ‘Gilded Age’ United States, where an unrestricted literary market in bowdlerized British novels meant that local periodicals offered the best available venue for local writers (such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville) to prosper in; but the metropolitan oases of Russia, France and Germany also fostered lively subscription magazine cultures, triggering momentous formal innovations from the likes of Anton Chekhov, Guy de Maupassant and E. T. A. Hoffmann. In Britain, meanwhile, this state of affairs fomented the propitious conditions – which Henry James in c.1910 called ‘a world of periodicals and editors, of roaring “successes” in fine’ – in which Robert Louis Stevenson, H. G. Wells, Arnold Bennett and Rudyard Kipling were to leave their distinctive marks on a form whose centre of gravity arguably lay elsewhere.

There is an argument to be made that, at the very historical apex of the age of the book – the Gutenberg galaxy's apotheosis in the ‘world republic of letters’ with its meridian in Paris at the end of the nineteenth century – this notable shift to shorter forms in cheap and disposable periodical formats had already augured a momentous recalibration of literary energies, whose long-term results we can perhaps see around us today. That is to say, the situation of which James complains in his preface to The Wings of the Dove – namely, ‘the fact that the work had ignominiously failed, in advance, of all power to see itself “serialised”’ – is one in which books, the very physical bulk of the codex as such, already seemed doomed to a saurian extinction in the face of the lither and more adaptable species of shorter fiction.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2016

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  • Short Story Futures
  • Edited by Dominic Head, University of Nottingham
  • Book: The Cambridge History of the English Short Story
  • Online publication: 17 November 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316711712.036
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  • Short Story Futures
  • Edited by Dominic Head, University of Nottingham
  • Book: The Cambridge History of the English Short Story
  • Online publication: 17 November 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316711712.036
Available formats
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Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • Short Story Futures
  • Edited by Dominic Head, University of Nottingham
  • Book: The Cambridge History of the English Short Story
  • Online publication: 17 November 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781316711712.036
Available formats
×