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During the peak of his contemporary popularity, F. Scott Fitzgerald lived abroad - mostly in France - for five years and eight months, much of that time pursuing a frenzied social life that impeded his literary work. His European travels included lengthy stays from May 1924 through the end of 1926 and then from March 1929 through September 1931, as well as a five-month sojourn in mid-1928. On foreign shores he experienced misery and elation: his wife Zelda's romance with French aviator Edouard Jozan; completion, publication, and celebration of his third novel, The Great Gatsby (1925); new friendships with Ernest Hemingway and with Gerald and Sara Murphy; innumerable alcoholic binges and embarrassments; false starts on a fourth novel and increasing self-doubts; domestic rivalry and acrimony; Zelda's first nervous breakdown and treatment; his hotel life and fugitive magazine fiction. Only after returning to the US did Fitzgerald publish Tender is the Night (1934), a work that despite its flaws plumbs the paradoxes of desire more profoundly than did Gatsby. Understandably, Tender has preoccupied scholars and biographers seeking insight into the author's life abroad, for its thinly veiled treatment of the Fitzgeralds' domestic calamities, set against the crazy violence of post-war Europe, reveals much about the author's own identification with expatriate culture. But the many short stories set at least partly in Europe likewise merit closer attention, less for their biographical connections than for their representations of the American migration to Europe after World War I.
In 1933, five years after moving to Key West with his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, Ernest Hemingway revisited Paris and there composed a travel letter for Esquire magazine about the “gloomy” mood of the city where he had spent six momentous years in the 1920s. His return seemed “a big mistake”: Some old friends had killed themselves, others clung to the past by scribbling memoirs, and everyone seemed “very discouraged.” The painters complained that nobody was buying their work, and the big cafes in Montparnasse teemed with “refugees from Nazi terror” - as well as with German spies. Everyone assumed the stark inevitability of another world war. But Hemingway's somber report seemed finally to mask a private grief, betrayed near the end of the letter when he evoked the plangent image of the city as a forsaken mistress:
Paris is very beautiful this fall. It was a fine place to be quite young in and it is a necessary part of a man's education. We all loved it once and we lie if we say we didn't. But she is like a mistress who does not grow old and she has other lovers now. She was old to start with but we did not know it then. We thought she was just older than we were, and that was attractive then. So when we did not love her any more we held it against her. But that was wrong because she is always the same age and she always has new lovers.
Originally published in 1995, this book gathers together eleven full-length essays on important American short story sequences of the twentieth century. The introduction by J. Gerald Kennedy elucidates problems of defining the genre, cites notable instances of the form (such as Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio), and explores the implications of its modern emergence and popularity. Subsequent essays discuss illustrative works by such figures as Henry James, Jean Toomer, Ernest Hemingway, Richard Wright, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, J. D. Salinger, John Cheever, John Updike, Louise Erdrich, and Raymond Carver. While examining distinctive thematic concerns, each essay also considers implications of form and arrangement in the construction of composite fictions that often produce the illusion of a fictive community.
A literary form at once ancient and avant-garde, the story sequence resists precise definition and occupies an odd, ambiguous place between the short story and the novel. Critics still disagree about what to call it: The genre discussed here as the sequence – to emphasize its progressive unfolding and cumulative effects – has been variously labeled the “short story cycle,” the “short story composite,” and the “rovelle” (a fusion of roman and nouvelle). Although such works as Joyce's Dubliners and Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio epitomize the type and herald a remarkable outpouring of such collections in the twentieth century, the combining of stories to create a linked series dates back from The Thousand and One Arabian Nights to Chaucer and Boccaccio and even further to classical antiquity itself. Yet efforts to trace the history of the form at once confront the stark discontinuity of its development. Lacunae of centuries between identifiable story sequences call into question the very notion of a sustained tradition. Meanwhile inquiries into its poetics raise a number of difficult questions: What features of arrangement and emphasis differentiate the sequence from the miscellaneous collection? What measure of coherence must a volume of stories possess to form a sequence? In the twentieth century, what distinguishes a connected set of stories from the multifaceted modern novel? Such questions suggest the complications that beset our understanding of what the story sequence is and how it works.
Readers conversant with twentieth-century fiction will, however, instantly recognize the ubiquity and importance of the form as represented by several collections from the era of high modernism.
If the sense of community “begins with, and is very largely supported by, the experience of interdependence and reciprocity,” as Philip Selznick observes, then the modern short story sequence poses a provocative analogy to this basic social structure. Assembling narratives about diverse characters to form a composite text, such collections curiously resemble the gathering of a group to exchange the stories that express its collective identity. Whether or not fictional protagonists narrate their own accounts, their juxtaposed experiences disclose connections that apparently link their lives to a larger scheme of order and meaning. The analogy between communities and story sequences becomes inescapable in works such as The Country of the Pointed Firs, Dubliners, Tortilla Flat, or Olinger Stories – all of which represent specific population groups or identified enclaves. Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio epitomizes this local emphasis insofar as it maps a town and surveys its populace, yielding a panoramic view of its collective life. In a broad sense, the mixed voices and multiple perspectives in these self-conscious “narratives of community” expose the element of communal dialogue inherent in all short story sequences.
Yet, as a written artifact, a product of print culture, the story sequence always assumes an ironic relation to the scene of communal narration that it obscurely simulates. In a much-quoted essay, Walter Benjamin has lamented the recent decline of “the art of storytelling” – the accumulation of narrative density through repeated recitation – noting that the modern short story has already “removed itself from oral tradition.” Much earlier, in Sketches from a Hunter's Album, Turgenev had depicted the same break with orality, projecting the short story writer's loss of community.