Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Sensate Focus and the Suspension of Disbelief: Some Tentative Suggestions

Last week I talked a bit about how John Barth's 1972 novella "Dunyzadiad" in his collection Chimera  suggested a relationship between sex and story. This week, I want to call your attention to another novella of that era, William H. Gass's Willie Masters' Lonesome Wife, which appeared in Triquarterly in 1968 and in hardback in 1971. It was reissued this past spring by Dalkey Archive Press.

The extended metaphor that Gass uses throughout the book is that the lonesome wife is the book itself, that very subjective object which we hold in our hands when we read and enter with excitement, pleasure, joy, and yes, even fear. As love/literature, she speaks to the reader as she seduces him with her body, the page:

"how I love you now I have you here…I've got you deep inside of me like they say in the songs, fast as a ship in Antarctic ice, and I won't need to pinion your arms, lover, butt you or knee, you'll stay, you'll want to, you'll beg me not to go and take my myth, my baffling maze, my sex, my veils, my art away…and I shall shave you so close and sand you so sensitive, so scarce and smooth, that when I put you at last up in public in the light of my lights, then anyone—anyone who's paid his buck in—will be easily able, just by looking, to lick the sweet heart out of your heart, the life from your living, and the daylights out of your cage."
At the conclusion of the book, however, when the reader has left her, the lonesome wife complains:

"he did not, in his address, at any time construct me.  He made nothing, I swear—nothing.  Empty I began, and empty I remained…. These words are all I am…. Oh, I'm the girl upon this couch, all right, you needn't fear; the one who's waltzed you through these pages, clothed and bare, who's hated you for your humiliations, sought your love…. Could you love me? Love me then…then love me…. Yes, I know I can't command it. Yet I should love, if ever you would let me, like a laser, burning through all the foolish ceremonial of modesty and custom, cutting pieties of price and parentage, inheritance and privilege, away like stale sweet cake to sick a dog.  My dears, my dears…how I would brood upon you: you the world; and I, the language."
I used Gass's William Masters Lonesome Wife and John Barth's "Dunyazadiad" as an introit to a presentation I made many years ago in Los Angeles at the annual meeting of the California Association of Teachers of English. Both novellas explore a basic relationship between sex and storytelling suggested by the frame story of Thousand Nights and a Night—a relationship between what Coleridge called "Suspension of Disbelief" and sex researchers Masters and Johnson called "sensate focus."
In chapter 14 of Biographia Literaria Coleridge explains the division of responsibilities between Wordsworth and himself in The Lyrical Ballads. Coleridge says that Wordsworth was to focus on the things of everyday life and to excite a feeling analogous to the supernatural "by awakening the mind's attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us," a world that had been covered over by "a film of familiarity and selfish solicitude."
Coleridge says that his own task was to direct attention to persons and actions supernatural "so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment which constitutes poetic faith."
Critic Norman Holland in his book The Dynamics of Literary Response devotes a chapter to the relationship between art and sex, citing many artists and critics who use the language of sexuality to describe the aesthetic response. Philosopher Gaston Bachelard, for example, talks about the poem's "possession" of us completely; director Tyrone Gutherie says that a good director does not so much try to create the illusion of reality as he tries to interest the audience so intensely that they are "rapt" and "taken out of themselves"; and aesthetician Bernard Berenson says that the aesthetic experience is a brief, timeless moment when the spectator is "at one" with the work and the two become one entity."
All of this suggests that the reading experience assumes a dual notion of reality that has been noted by many different thinkers. For example, psychiatrist Arthur Deikman has discussed the difference between what he calls "the action mode," which is a state of striving toward achieving personal goals; and "the receptive mode," which is organized around intake of the environment instead of its manipulation.  Because the action mode has been developed for insuring survival, we have been led to assume that it is the only proper adult mode and to think of the receptive mode as being pathological, regressive, or childish. Deikman suggests that love is experienced in the receptive mode.
Deikman uses the terms "automatization" and deautomatization" to suggest this bimodality--terms that echo Coleridge and Wordsworth's purposes in The Lyrical Ballads.  For Deikman says what happens to the notion of reality during these periods of deautomatization when one has suspended disbelief is that stimuli of the inner world become invested with the feeling of reality ordinarily bestowed on objects.  Through what might be termed "reality transfer," thoughts and images become real.
Philosopher Ernst Cassirer notes a basic difference between practical or theoretical thinking and mythical thinking.  He says that in our habit of dividing lie into the two spheres of practical and theoretical activity we are apt to forget that there is a lower substratum that lies beneath them both:
"Primitive man is not liable to such forgetfulness. All his thoughts and feelings are still embedded in this lower original stratum  His view of nature is neither merely theoretical nor merely practical; it is sympathetic…. Primitive man by no means lacks the ability to grasp the empirical differences of things.  But in his conception of nature and life all these differences are obliterated by a stronger feeling: the deep conviction of a fundamental solidarity of life that bridges over the multiplicity and variety of single forms."
When one is under the spell of mythic thinking, says Cassirer, "it is as though the whole world were simply annihilated; the immediate content, whatever it be, that commands his religious interest so completely fills his consciousness that nothing else can exist apart from it." 

This, it seems to me, is the paradigm of the suspension of disbelief and sensate focus.  It takes as its prerequisite, continues Cassirer, the "focusing of all forces on a single point."  In applying this theory to literature, Philip Wheelwright has noted that such experience is "most incontestably evident" in one's relationship "at certain heightened moments" with another person. "To know someone as a presence instead of as a lump of matter or a set of processes, is to meet him with an open, listening, responsive attitude; it is to become a thou in the presence of his i-hood.'  It is, of course, this sense of "presence," Wheelwright says, that poetic language hopes to capture.

It is Norman O. Brown's interpretation of Freud that John Barth's genie has in mind in his analogy of sexuality and literature, for Brown says language itself has its base in infantile erotic play—that all art is actualized play, and that behind every form of play lies a process of the discharge of sexual fantasies. "Original sense in nonsense," says Brown, and "common sense a cover-up job." 

Rollo May in Love and Will notes that creativity is always an intense encounter which involves being absorbed, caught up, for which sexual intercourse is an appropriate metaphor.. Jose Ortega y Gasset in Love: Aspects of a Single Theme says that for the lover, the mystic, the artist, attention is so focused on the object that for the moment attention is withdrawn from everything else and the sense of union is created.  And Denis de Rougemont in Love in the Western World, notes that love is both the best conductor and the best stimulant of expression.

What does all this have to do with my examination of the relationship between sex and storytelling in Alice Munro's stories?  I am not completely sure yet.  I am just following a line of thought and teasing out connections.  I think it has something to do with the distinction between "realist" fiction and "fantasy" fiction.  

Critical response to Munro's first few collections focused on her realism, seeing her stories as relatively transparent depictions of the lives of the people of rural Ontario. However, the more stories Munro pubvlished the more critics began to sense the "artifice" in her work.  My colleague Dorothy Johnston said in a recent comment on this blog that the relationship between the "realist" frame of 1001 Nights and the fantastic stories that Shahrazad tells is of particular interest to her.  It is of particular interest to me also, and is related, I think to the study of Alice Munro's stories I am working on.

My reading of Marina Warner's book on Thousand and One Nights has further emphasized the distinction between the realistic and the fantastic in my mind and has reaffirmed my long-held notion that, at least as far as the short story is concerned, there is no such thing as "realism"—that the short story maintains its allegiance to its ancestry in fantasy and fairytale, that it has always been more aligned to the mythic view of reality as Ernst Cassier and others delineate it, than to the so-called practical world of the everyday.  It has always been more akin, to use Mircea Eliade's terms, to the "sacred view of reality" than to the "profane."

And Alice Munro is, first and foremost, a short-story writer. No matter how ralistic her stories seem, they are always highly patterned artifices that communicate by "storytelling" devices rather than realistic devices.

More about this next time, when I talk about Marina Warner's book Stranger Magic and the issue of that "realistic" frame and the "fantastic" stories interrelated throughout The Arabian Nights.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Some Preliminary Remarks about Thousand and One Nights, ala John Barth and others

A long time ago, when I was much younger and considerably more daring than I am now, I taught a course for a few years entitled "Love and Sex in Literature."  My students and I read and discussed a number of books and stories that have been called pornographic, e.g.: Fanny Hill, De Sade's Justine, Henry Miller's Sexus, The Story of O, etc. I got into a bit of trouble for teaching the course, with one of my colleagues bringing charges of unprofessional conduct against me. However, I had presented research papers at a number of professional conferences and had published several scholarly essays about erotic literature.  International scholars judged my research significant and valuable, and I was declared "innocent" of the charges against me.

But that was another time and I won't dwell on it at this time, although I will come back to some discoveries I made about sex and storytelling while teaching the course. I bring it up simply to indicate that I have been thinking about the relationship between sexuality and storytelling for some time now. My interest actually began when I read John Barth's "Dunyazadiad" in his collection of novellas entitled Chimera (1972).  The story is Barth's tribute to his long-distance love affair with the iconic storyteller Shahrazad.

Barth's version of the famous frame tale of Thousand and One Nights is told by young sister Dunyzade. During the thousand and one nights while Shahrazad engages in multiple ways of making love and myriad ways of telling stories, she and the genie John Barth,(who appears to her from the future when both utter the same magic words at once, "the key to the treasure is the treasure") theorize about the relationship between these two "life-saving" phenomena. Barth/genie tells Sherry that in his own time and place, there are scientists of the passions who maintain that language itself originated in infantile pregenital erotic exuberance, polymorphously perverse, by which "magic phrases" they seem to mean that "writing and reading, or telling and listening," are "literally ways of making love."  Whether this is actually the case, neither the genie nor Sherry care; yet they like to speak "as if" it were (their favorite words, Sherry's sister observes).

This theory "accounted thereby for the similarity between conventional dramatic structure—its exposition, rising action, climax and denouement—and the rhythm of sexual intercourse from foreplay through coitus to orgasm and release." Even more basically, Sherry and the genie talk "as if" the relationship between teller and told is basically erotic, in which the good reader is as involved as the author:

Narrative, in short—and here they were again in full agreement—was a love relation, not a rape: its success depended upon the reader’s consent and cooperation, which she could withhold or at any moment withdraw; also upon her own combination of experience and talent for enterprise, and the author’s ability to arouse, sustain, and satisfy her interest—an ability on which his figurative life hung as surely as Shahrazad's literal.

Just to refresh your memory about the frame tale of Thousand and One Nights: There are two brothers—King Shahrayar of India and Indochina, and his younger brother Shahzaman, who rules Samarkand. After Shahzaman catches his wife having sex with a kitchen boy, he kills both and, grief-stricken, goes to visit his brother. One day he sees Shahrayar's wife having sex with a slave along with twenty other slave girls and men. He tells Shahrayar, who cuts off the head of his wife and all twenty-one slaves.

Shahrayar declares that each day he will marry a virgin, have sex with her, and then order his Vizier to kill her in the morning. After  many girls have died, the Vizier's daughter Sharazad, a refined and intelligent young woman, tells her father that she wants to marry the king so that she might find a way to save the girls of the kingdom or else die. She instructs her younger sister Dunyazad to stay with her and after the king has had sex with her, to say, "Sister, tell us a story." Shahrazad's plan is to finish the story in the middle of the night and then, at her sister's urging, begin another one that she cannot finish by morning. The king, wanting to hear the end of the story, postpones Shahrazad's  execution each morning for over three years.

Hanan al-Shaykh, one of Egypt's best-known novelists, who has often been called "the new Shahrazad," said in an address entitled "The New Shahrazad" at Virginia's Sweet Briar College in 2000, that she was not pleased at this designation, for she felt the archetypal storyteller was the epitome of oppressed Arab women—traditionally only good for sex and entertaining men.

However, al-Shaykh says that after reading One Thousand and One Nights, she realized that Shahrazad was not just telling stories to save her life, but rather to take risks--to assume the role of the artist, creating a mosaic that concealed her own power, thus ceasing to be a victim. Her greatest discovery was that the women in these stories were not passive and fearful, but rather strong and intelligent.:

Shahrazad took the role of the artist, the creator, the story-teller who would test her own ability and rise above common artistry. She would penetrate every insight in order to tell stories that would excite, provoke, thrill, educate, and persuade indirectly, like transparent spiders’ threads continuing without taking breath, without finishing her story, fully aware that if she stopped to take that single breath between stories, she would be offering her neck to the sword, and she would be giving the king a chance to remember his twisted logic and his dark emotion."

I recently read Hanan al-Shaykh's new translation of Thousand and One Nights, subtitled "A Retelling.   I have a ten-volume set of Richard F. Burton's famous translation of Alf Laylah Wa-laylah, and over the years, have pulled a volume off my bookshelf to randomly read a story, that always compelled me to read another and then another.  But, if you are daunted by the multi-volumes, I recommend al-Shaykh's new one-volume translation.

 Al-Shaykh has stayed away from children's stories of Aladdin and Ali Baba , saying she preferred to stick with stories about marriage and  sex and love and  power about misogynists who killed their wives or lovers and  women who had to become cunning and manipulative  to save themselves. She has restored the sexuality that the famous English version by Edward Lane in 1838 deleted.  The need to tell stories is the underlying driving force of Thousand and One Nights, beginning with Shahrazad who has the most powerful motivation of all—to tell stories or to die. Stories lead to stories, which lead to other stories, until the reader is drawn so far away from the originating story that it begins to seem that only stories exist, and that the reader may never find his or her way back to reality.  Indeed, the "word "reality" becomes increasingly problematical.

In a piece in The New York Times entitled "Narrate or Die," on April 18, 1999, A. S. Byatt said:

"The stories in Thousand and One Nights are stories about storytelling without ever ceasing to be stories about love and life and death and money and good and other human necessities.  Narration is as much a part of human nature as breath and the circulation of the blood…. We are all, like Scheherazade, under sentence of death, and we all think of our lives as narrative, with beginning, middles and ends."

In an interview in The Atlantic, (Joe Fassler, "The Humanist Message Hidden Amid the Violence of One Thousand and One Nights, June 25, 2013), Hanan Al-Shaykh says that Shahrazad is working on the King through the stories, educating him, maybe even brainwashing him, as the stories slowly teach him to give up his bloodlust and his blanket condemnation of women.  She says the book indicates a role for literature to make us more human—not polemical, not political, but on a human level.  The stories humanize us and make us better, she says. How a story can do this is something the cognitive psychologists are trying to determine in their study of what is called Theory of Mind.

Some Remarks about Sensate Focus and the Suspension of Disbelief next week.  Also some remarks about Marina Warner's 2012 book Stranger Magic: Charmed Stories and the Arabian Nights.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Alice Munro: Sex and Storytelling in Selected Stories in Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

Magdalene Redekop, author of the very fine book, Mothers and Other Clowns: The Stories of Alice Munro (1992), was one of the presenters at the Alice Munro Symposium I attended in Ottawa in May of this year; she talked about "Lichen," from The Progress of Love (1986). The title of the story refers to a close-up polaroid photograph of a woman's genitals, which the central female characters thinks looks like lichen, or moss on a rock: "The legs are spread wide--smooth, golden, monumental: fallen columns. Between them is the dark blot she called moss, or lichen.  But it's really more like the dark pelt of an animal, with the head and tail and feet chopped off.  Dark silky pelt of some unlucky rodent."

Redekop spoke about how densely allusive the story is, how each time you read it, different chords "resonate." But the allusion Redekop cited that struck me most profoundly was to the primal collection of stories 1001 Nights, in which the archetypal storyteller Scheherazade tells different stories each night for three years to save her life. 

Redekop said what echoed for her in the story. Because she just happened to be reading a review of Marina Warner's book on the Arabian Nights, Stranger Magic at the time, she was most taken with the phrase the central male character David in the Munro story uses to describe the way he dumps women—"the big chop." The sentence from Warner's book that makes the connection for Redekop  is this: "The power of stories to forge destinies has never been so memorably and sharply put as it is in this cycle, in which the blade of the executioner's sword lies on the storyteller's neck."  Thus, the "big chop."

Redekop makes a number of valuable suggestions about the implications of seeing Munro as a kind of Scheherazade, who, unlike other magical storytellers influenced by 1001 Nights, such as Rushdie, Calvino, and Marquez, Munro stays with the realism of the frame story, using its stability to "take liberties in the stories within stories—where, as in the Arabian Nights, 'heads are lopped off' and 'no shape stays constant for a second'."

Having recently read a new translation of Thousand and One Nights, I was quite taken by Redekop's image of Munro as Scheherazade, but  during the question and answer period following her presentation, when I tried to explain why it had such an impact of me, I ended up blathering on about how I loved Alice Munro—which sounded banal since everyone at the conference loved Alice Munro.  However, I did not mean simply that I loved her writing or the image of her as a grande dame of the short story, but that when I read her stories, I fell in love with her.  Redekop's citation of the Scheherazade connection somehow justified that confession of love, which I have since been trying to articulate for myself.

As it happens, Bob Thacker, author of the highly respected  authoritative biography, Alice Munro: Writing Her Lives, who was my fellow keynoter at the Ottawa Munro Symposium, asked if I would be interested in contributing an essay to a new collection of studies of Munro to be published by Bloomsbury Academic publishers for their series, "Bloomsbury Studies in Contemporary North American Fiction."  The series usually includes three essays each on three of the chosen author's most recent books; it used to be called Continuum Studies in North American Fiction and has featured such authors as Cormac McCarthy, Philip Roth, Toni Morrison, Margaret Atwood, and Louise Erdrich.

I always get most energized on a subject that obsesses me when I am aiming toward a final, finished essay or book, so Bob Thacker's invitation was the ideal excuse to once again immerse myself in the stories of Alice Munro.  The three Munro collections to be featured in the book Thacker is editing are: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Loveship, Marriage (2001), Runaway (2004), and Dear Life (2012).  I chose to write about the Hateship volume and sent the following proposal to Bob for his consideration:

                         "The Key to the Treasure": 
          Sex and Storytelling in Alice Munro's Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage
In her review of Alice Munro's collection Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage, American writer Lorrie Moore praises Munro's genius as a storyteller, arguing that the "birth and death of erotic love" is her timeless subject. In his review of the same collection, Irish writer John McGahern, also applauds Munro's mastery of the story form, insisting that no one writes as well as Munro about "the hardhearted energy of sex." This essay focuses on the relationship between erotic love and storytelling in five stories from the Hateship collection—"Floating Bridge," "Nettles," "Post and Beam," "What is Remembered," and the title story. The Thousand and One Nights and John Barth's exploration of the relationship between storytelling and Eros in his novella Dunyazadiad, provide a context for this essay's examination of the significance of "what is remembered," and thus narrated, about erotic love, as well as the magical means by which Munro's seemingly realistic stories communicate their complex and ambiguous meaning.
I wrote Bob and told him that I would be using my blog to post my "work in progress" on the essay.  I also sent a copy of the proposal to Maggie Redekop and told her the same. I will not be posting the final essay on the blog, for that might possibly infringe on Bloomsbury's first serial rights, in the event they publish the essay. What I will be posting are citations from stories, criticism, theories, reviews, and other literary works, as well as exploratory ruminations. If at any time Bob Thacker thinks I am coming too close to preempting the publication of the essay in the book he is editing, I will cease and desist.

I just thought it might be interesting for readers to follow my progress. (I always come up with about ten times the amount of primary and secondary material than I actually use in the final essay; my blog readers might appreciate the overflow). It might also generate some additional interest in the book, which would be good for Bloomsbury and for Alice Munro.  Let me know if you think this is a good idea or a bad idea. Barring any serious objections, I will begin posting my progress on the project next week.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Origins of the Short Story in British Romantic Period: Part II: "Dream Children," "The Vampyre," "Wandering Willie's Tale"

T. O Beachcroft suggests that Charles Lamb's most famous essay, "Dream Children," from   Essays of Elia (1822), because of its narrative movement and its management of time between the present and the past, is a central example of the emergence of the short story from the essay.  However, the piece is typical of  basic short story conventions in more intrinsic ways in that it is a story about the telling of story as well as a story about a purely imaginative event. It also anticipates the short story in depending upon a surprise ending in which storytelling itself is revealed to be reverie. On a first reading of "Dream Children," one has no reason to doubt the actuality of the dramatic event described: that of the narrator's children sitting around him to hear about their great grandmother and their uncle, that is, until the very end of the piece when the narrator awakes and finds himself in his bachelor arm chair. 
The mode of the story does not make it clear whether it is a pure dream tale or whether it is a combination of dream and reverie, a kind of hypnogogic state. The latter seems the most likely, both because of the subtitle, "A Reverie," and because of the specificity of the events recalled from the past. The story is a combination of both dream and memory; the tale the narrator tells to the children is memory, but the children themselves are a product of projective imagination. The entire story is told in terms of the telling of the telling; the present time is that of Elia writing about his telling the story to the children. The imagined events, because they correspond so closely to reactions of the children to the  story itself, so convince us of the irreality that we are affected by the sentimental nature of the whole of the tale until the conclusion when we discover that the teller is an old bachelor and that the children are only those who might have been.  
No one really exists in the piece except the teller himself; all are shades of those who have been or those who are never to be. "Dream Children" is an interesting experiment in the creation of ideal fictional listeners who respond to the separate events of the tale. Thus, the truly narrative mode of the work lies not in the memory that is related, for that indeed is only reverie, but in the narrative of the telling of memory events, in the creation of the listeners to the story. The structure of the piece consists of the alternation of long passages of discursive recollection, beginning with the phrase, "Then I told them how..." with short descriptions of the children's reactions, beginning with such phrases as "Here Alice put on one of her dear mother's looks," "Here John smiled, as much as to say...," 'Here the children fell a crying...." The climax comes when the teller, talking to the children about their dead mother, looks at the child Alice and "the soul of the first Alice looked out of her eyes with such a reality of presentment, that I became in doubt which of them stood there before me." 
  While the narrator gazes, the children grow fainter and recede until only their "mournful features" are seen in the distance, "which, without speech, strangely impressed upon me the effects of speech: 'We are not of Alice, nor of thee, nor are we children at all.... We are nothing; less than nothing, and dreams.'"  Because the piece depends so much on the revelation at the end that the "as if real" children listening to the reminiscences are dream children only, the story bears some resemblance to other stories later in the nineteenth century in which a supposedly real character is revealed at the end to be a product of the imagination. Thomas Aldrich's famous American short story "Marjorie Daw" is the most obvious example, but this motif is a common one in the short story in the nineteenth century and is part of the general romantic emphasis on responding to the imaginary as the most significant real. 

Although John Polidori's "The Vampyre: A Tale" (1819) cannot be said to have had a direct influence on the development of the short story in English literature, it deserves mention as the first vampire story in English, which gave rise later to Sheridan LeFanu's "Carmilla" and many other gothic stories in the latter half of the century. The manner of the story has often been criticized as pretentious, convoluted, and prolix, although the plot idea and many of its details have been said to derive from Byron, most directly from "A Fragment" which Byron appended to  Mazeppa in 1819, and from his earlier verse tale, "The Giaour." 
It is not clear that "The Vampyre" is the story which Polidori started on that famous night on Lake Geneva, for Mary Shelley in her introduction to Frankenstein says that Polidori had in mind some "terrible idea about a skull-headed lady, who was so punished for peeping through a keyhole."  It is more likely that after Byron dismissed Polidori from his service as a physician, Polidori made use of both Byron's public image and Byron's work to create the prototype of the Byronic vampire, Lord Ruthven. Thus, the story is important in the history of gothic romance, and since the gothic is the predominant form of the English nineteenth-century short story, it is important for a study of short fiction in that period also.  However, it is significant for my purposes in a more intrinsic way, primarily in the manner with which it deals with character.  
Indeed the most interesting aspect of "The Vampyre" is the character of the central figure Aubrey and his relationship to the larger-than-life figure of Lord Ruthven, for it is truly Aubrey's story that is central here. Lord Ruthven,  a mysterious figure who inspires awe in those who see him, is more an objectification of Aubrey's own conflicting desires than he is a folklore vampire figure from European myth. His arrival in London is coincident with the arrival of Aubrey, a young gentleman who "cultivated more his imagination than his judgment." Aubrey's central characteristic is that he thinks "the dreams of poets "are the "realities of life." However, discovering that there is "no foundation in real life for any of that congeries of pleasing pictures and descriptions contained in those volumes, from which he had formed his study," he is about to relinquish his dreams when he meets Lord Ruthven, who becomes indeed a figure of the imagination made real. 
In a sentence that both reflects the awkwardness of Polidori's style and the focus of the relationship between Aubrey and Ruthven, we see a central theme of short fiction in the nineteenth century:  "He watched him; and the very impossibility of forming an idea of the character of a man entirely absorbed in himself, who gave few other signs of his observation of external objects, than the tacit assent to their existence, implied by the avoidance of their contact:  allowing his imagination to picture everything that flattered its propensity to extravagant ideas, he soon formed this object into the hero of a romance, and determined to observe the offspring of his fancy, rather than the person before him."  In the last half of the century, this projection of an imaginative state outward and then the response to it as if it existed in the external world is a dominant short fiction motif.  
  The narrative thrust of the story, as it is for many stories later in the century, is Aubrey's desire to "break that mystery, which to his exalted imagination began to assume the appearance of something supernatural." When Aubrey decides to leave Ruthven in Rome and to travel alone to Greece, another common nineteenth century short story motif is introduced--the projection of the desire for the spiritually beautiful on to an object in the external world.  The Greek girl Ianthe becomes an embodiment of the mystery of pure innocence for Aubrey, "a vision of romance," a "fairy form." After Ianthe is killed, presumably by Ruthven,  Aubrey, in his delirium and despair, calls upon Lord Ruthven and Ianthe as if "by some unaccountable combination he seemed to beg of his former companion to spare the being he loved." The combination is "unaccountable" only in the manifest level of the story. On the unconscious level, it suggests that Ruthven and Ianthe are Manichean projections of Aubrey's own imagination. Indeed, Ruthven's very existence depends on Aubrey's projection of him.   
As the events of the story come full circle, Aubrey is constantly haunted by  Lord Ruthven; he withdraws to solitude and deteriorates both physically and mentally because of his obsession. Aubrey is finally considered insane and  confined to his chambers.  Ultimately,  because his rage cannot be vented against Lord Ruthven (in the manifest story because of an illogical and unmotivated promise, but in the latent story because Lord Ruthven is indeed his own projection) Aubrey breaks a blood vessel. When the hour of midnight strikes, marking the end of his promise, Aubrey "frees himself" by writing the story we have been reading and dies immediately afterwards. 
"The Vampyre" is a flawed version of the kind of story which Robert Louis Stevenson later perfects in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," but it is a typical romantic gothic story, for just as Mary Shelley in Frankenstein develops the monster as a projection of Victor Frankenstein's own repressed nature, so also does Aubrey project his own desires on Lord Ruthven, creating out of him a creature of his own imagination. What seems highly implausible in the tale--the fairy tale figure of Ianthe, the promise that Aubrey makes to Ruthven, the illogical companionship of the two men, the marriage of Aubrey's sister to Ruthven—can be accounted for by understanding the image of Ruthven as the active double of the passive and imaginative Aubrey.  The story is an interesting, if primitive, version of a quite common romantic short fiction convention: the mysterious evil figure, projected as an embodiment of the imagination of the central character--a figure who seems more a denizen of story reality than of external reality.  
Poe, of course, develops this motif to its most polished extreme in "The Fall of the House of Usher," although other examples of the theme can be seen in tales throughout the nineteenth century. Aubrey is the typical romantic searcher for that which is supernatural, i.e. that which is a product of the pure imagination. The romantic notion of the quest for the purely spiritual (which then ironically is reduced to the  merely physical), or the corresponding quest for the spiritual in the physical,  can be seen later in the gothic fictions of Hawthorne, Poe, Le Fanu, Bulwer Lytton, and others.  It is also a common theme in the stories of Turgenev, Dostoevsky, Hoffman, Gautier, and Nerval. I am not suggesting that Polidori is responsible for these themes, but rather that he serves as the clumsy transmitter of romantic motifs which become common devices in short fiction later in the century. 

The best known example of the oral folk tale in the early nineteenth century is Sir Walter Scott's insert tale in  Redgauntlet which is often anthologized as "Wandering Willie's Tale" (1824).  Told by the blind fiddler Willie Steenson, the story has been called by Wendell Harris and Julia Briggs Scott's "only fully successful brief narrative" and "almost a textbook example of the well-told tale as opposed to the short story." The story differs from the previous pieces I have discussed in that it is  oral rather than written and thus more radically foregrounds the character of the teller.  Because the tone of the tale takes on such importance, the story manifests a self-conscious ambiguity as to whether the events recounted are supernatural or psychologically realistic. The story has much the same oral ironic tone as the famous tales by Washington Irving and much the same ambiguity  concerning the tension between dream reality and external reality as the tales of Hawthorne. 
"Wandering Willie's Tale" forms an interesting bridge between the traditional folk tale in which confrontations with the devil are the stock in trade and the later British mystery story in which the supposed supernatural is accounted for in a grotesque but naturalistic way. Thus, there are both folklore elements as well as literary elements in the story, although the literary is not as pronounced as in the works of Washington Irving who subsumes the folk tale by a more sophisticated style of the teller. Although the Scottish dialect of Willie's telling and the somewhat trivial crux of the missing money and rent receipt on which the story depends undercut the seriousness of the supernatural and make the story a cause for chuckles rather than horror, what primarily makes the story more interesting than the old fashioned ghost story is the foregrounding of the theme of the supernaturalizing of the natural which lies at the very heart of the folk tale impulse itself.  As is evident from his  Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft, Scott was familiar enough with this impulse to play with the conventions that underlie it. 
Both the supernatural and the natural are presented side by side in the tale to create a pattern of motifs which mocks the Lord of the manor, Sir Robert, even as it also lightly mocks the supernatural explanation  of mysterious events.  The central events in the story are the mysterious disappearance of the rent money which Steenie pays to Sir Robert just before his death and Steenie's consequent visit to hell to obtain the receipt he needs to prove he paid the rent. The basic manifest motivation of the tale is to clear Steenie's good name, even as the satiric thrust is to lay disrepute on the name of Redgauntlet and thus register a triumph of the lower class over the higher. 
Sir Robert is presented as a powerful figure so hated and feared that he is made mythical by the folk as one who has a compact with Satan. This fearsome image is undercut when Steenie goes to pay the master his rent, for Sir Robert  dies in grotesquely comic struggle with the gout, screaming for water to put his legs in, all the time being mocked by his pet Jack an'ape. The Jack an'ape plays a crucial role in the story not only in providing the naturalistic explanation for many of the seemingly supernatural events, but in being presented as a grotesque "familiar" for Sir Robert, both of whom bear the image of the fiend in the folk imagination  "a fearsome couple." At the end of the story, Willie notes that many feel that the shape of the fiend that the butler saw on Sir Robert's coffin was the monkey, as it was the monkey who blew the master's silver whistle which summoned the butler to his death from fright. It is of course the ape also who is responsible for hiding the money in the old turret called "Cat's Cradle." Thus the monkey serves as a crucial naturalistic explanation for supposed supernatural events as well as a metaphoric image of Sir Robert himself. 
Stennie's trip to hell to get the receipt is seemingly motivated by his drinking of brandy and his calling upon Satan to help clear his name of being a thief and a cheat. However, it is also an objectification of Steenie's exasperated reply to Sir Robert's son's question about the whereabouts of the money: it is "in hell!  with your father and his silver whistle." The stranger who meets Steenie in his ride through the dark forest is a typical figure of folklore which both Irving and Hawthorne use in their tales of Sleepy Hollow and Young Goodman Brown. Steenie responds to his journey to a hell like image of the Redgauntlet castle filled with ghastly revelers as if he were "like a man in a dream."  After receiving the receipt from Sir Robert and being ordered to return in one year, Steenie calls on God's name and immediately finds himself lying in the old churchyard of the Redgauntlet parish. "Steenie would have thought the whole thing was a dream, but he had the receipt in his hand."
 The explanation of the mystery of the money is provided very quickly, as Sir John finds the Cat's Cradle, kills the jack an'ape, and urges Steenie to say nothing about his "dream" in the wood of Pittmurkie. Thus, the central ambiguity of the tale, whether the events took place in the realm of superstition and folklore or whether they took place in the real world depends on whether it is the Lord of the manor's good name that is to be preserved or whether it is Steenie's reputation that must be secured.  Thus, because of the ambiguous tone of the teller, "Wandering Willie's Tale" marks a transition from the supernatural tale of the folk to the modern short story in which the supposed supernatural has either a naturalistic or a psychologized explanation. In the next phase of the British short story, with the quasi-scientific mystery stories of Wilkie Collins and Edward Bulwer Lytton, this ambiguity becomes the central concern of the narrative. 
The nineteenth-century short story differs from earlier short fictions because it combines the following previous separate generic conventions: the basically sacred and symbolic tale of romance and folk ballad; the personal voice of the eighteenth century essay; the focus on everyday reality of the realistic novel; and the sense of reality as an imaginative projection of Romantic poetry. The result of the union of these seemingly incompatible conventions is a new tradition of short fiction that first comes to full flower in America and Europe at mid-century, but whose traces can be found in  short fiction in England a generation earlier.   

Works Cited

Abrams, M. H.  Natural Supernaturalism. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., Inc., l97l.
Beachcroft, T. O. The Modest Art . London: Oxford University Press, 1968), p. 86.
Briggs, Julia. Night Visitors: The Rise and Fall of the English Ghost Story. London: Faber and Faber,1977), p. 101.
Canby, H. S. The Short Story in English. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., l909), p. 303.
Exjenbaum, B. M. "The Structure of Gogol's 'The Overcoat'," trans. Beth Paul and Muriel Nesbitt,  The Russian Review, 22 (Oct. 1963): 377-99.
Gerould, Katherine Fullerton. "The American Short Story," Yale Review, 13 (July 1924), p. 645. 
Harris, Wendell. "The Short Story in Embryo,"  English Literature in Transition), 15 (1972), 261-268.
Harris, Wendell. "Beginnings of the True Short Story in England," English Literature in Transition," 15 (1972): 269-76;
Harris, Wendell. "English Short Fiction in the l9th Century,"  Studies in Short Fiction) 6 (Fall 1968): 1414.
Kos, Erih. Kenyon Review, 30 (1968): 454.
Langbaum, Robert. The Poetry of Experience. New York: Random House, l957.
Lukacs, Georg. Solzhenitsyn, trans. William David Graf (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1969), pp.7-9.
Matthews, Brander. "The Philosophy of the Short Story. New York: Longmans, Green and Co., l901.
O'Connor, Frank. The Lonely Voice. Cleveland: The World Publishing Co.,1963), pp.20-2l.
Perry, Bliss. A Study in Prose Fiction. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., l902, p. 303.
Rohrberger, Mary.  Hawthorne and the Modern Short Story: A Study in Genre. The Hague: Mouton; Co., 1966), p. 141.
Stevenson, Lionel. "Vision and Form: The English Novel and the Emergence of the Short Story," Victorian Newsletter, No. 47, (Spring 1975) : 8-12. 


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Origins of the Short Story in the British Romantic Period: Part I

     Dorothy Johnston, a valued reader (and a very fine writer) has asked me whether I plan to talk much about the Romantic poets in my new book. A Critical History of the English Short Story.  With the exception of Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," which I take to be a classic short story, and Wordsworth's Lyrical Ballads, I do not plan to forage in the exquisite gardens of the Romantic poets, although I have taught them many times.  However, I do talk a bit about origins of the short story in the Romantic period, and include a draft here about that connection.  Thanks, Dorothy, for the conversation.

From the very beginnings of short story criticism, literary historians have attempted to account for the common judgment that the short story began in America in the early nineteenth century by distinguishing short fiction of this period from that written previously in England and Europe. For example, in l90l, in the first extended formal discussion of the form after Poe, American critic Brander Matthews attributed the difference to a new sense of "compression, originality, ingenuity, and fantasy." The following year, critic Bliss Perry denied this distinction, arguing  that the tales of Boccaccio and Chaucer exhibit the same characteristics. Instead, Perry claimed, the nineteenth century short story is distinguished from earlier stories by the "attitude" of the story writer toward his material. A few years later, H. S. Canby made this emphasis on the attitude of the teller more specific. In the nineteenth century short story, argued Canby, there is a more vivid "realization for the reader of that which moved the author to write, be it incident, be it emotion, be it situation.... Thus the art of the short story becomes as much an art of tone as of incident."
Because tone rather than plot or character has frequently been cited as a distinguishing characteristic of short fiction, perhaps this feature signifies the best place to more clearly establish what is uniquely new in short fiction in the early nineteenth century. One source of the focus on tone in early short fiction can be found in the eighteenth-century personal essay, which added a sophisticated reflective voice to the exemplum, the basic form of short narrative previously predominant. In  the early nineteenth century, this personalized voice was further combined with the new romantic interest in folktale and legend. For example, in America, although Washington Irving took his "story" from folklore, it was his "voice" that set his sketches apart from the Germanic models he used for "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."  In an 1824 letter to Henry Brevort, Irving said, "I consider a story merely as a frame on which to stretch my materials. It is the play of thought, and sentiment and language; the weaving of characters, lightly yet expressively delineated; the familiar and faithful exhibition of scenes in common life; and the half concealed vein of humour that is often playing through the whole--these are among what I aim at."
 It is obvious that Diedrich Knickerbocker, the voice of Irving's two most famous tales, is more like  the eighteenth-century voice of the Spectator's English squire Roger de Coverly than he is like the anonymous storyteller of folk tale and ballad. The basic difference is that whereas in the folk tale the personality of the teller is backgrounded,  the "town talker" depends on his own personal impression of that which he narrates. If  Irving's   Sketchbook, especially the "Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle" stories, mark a new departure for short fiction, that innovation lies in the uniting of folklore story with the individualized teller and thus, while maintaining interest in the story, adding a subjective interest. Another well-known example of this combination of  the spooky tale with the sophisticated teller  is Gogol's "The Overcoat," an often-cited candidate for the honor of originating  the short story in the nineteenth century in Europe.
For the folklore teller, it is the story that is important, not the characters as individuals nor the personality of the teller. With Chaucer and Boccaccio (where of course we have dramatized and individualized tellers, even very famous ones in Chaucer), although the tales may reveal something about the personalities of the tellers, either as to their type or as to their social milieu generally, the tellers do not significantly take part in the story itself, nor do they reveal in any engaged way how they feel about either the stories they are telling or the characters in them.  It is only after the romantic shift that the feeling of the teller gives importance to the action of the tale. 
Although neither Bliss Perry nor H. S. Canby specify what the change in attitude in the teller or the new emphasis on tone means for the short story, it might be suggested that it marks a loss of "faith" in the supernatural content of the story once held by the old folk teller and the consequent adoption of a new ironic view by the sophisticated teller. However, this new sophisticated attitude is also marked, as is suggested by Boris Ejxenbaum in his famous 1918 essay on Gogol's "The Overcoat," by a nostalgia for what has been lost. The secularizing of the supernatural in the short story in the nineteenth century means that the drama of the clash between the sacred and the profane no longer takes place in the cosmos or in the lives of the saints, but rather in the psyches of individuals, as Hawthorne and Poe's stories so amply show. 
This secularizing and internalizing of the sacred is a basic Romantic view, outlined by M. H. Abrams as "natural supernaturalism. However, the implications of this shift, although discussed by Abrams, Robert Langbaum, and others in terms of the poetry of the period, have never been explored in short fiction, for short fiction's relationship to Romanticism has itself seldom been examined.
The only extended discussion of the romantic element in the short story is Mary Rohrberger's book on Hawthorne and the modern short story. By citing from Hawthorne's prefaces as well as from the comments of various contemporary short story writers, Rohrberger argues that both Hawthorne and modern short story writers share the romantic notion of a reality that lies beyond the extensional, everyday world with which the novel has always been traditionally concerned.  Consequently, the form shares characteristics with the romance in being symbolic and romantic. "The short story derives from the romantic tradition," argues Rohrberger. "The metaphysical view that there is more to the world than that which can be apprehended through the senses provides the rationale for the short story which is a vehicle for the author's probing of the nature of the real.  As in the metaphysical view, reality lies beyond the ordinary world of appearances, so in the short story, meaning lies beneath the surface of the narrative.           
Although  Rohr Berger is surely right in claiming that the short story is closer to the romance form than to the novel in its basically symbolic nature, she treats the form as though it were identical to the romance, failing to consider either the new emphasis on tone in short fiction in the nineteenth century or the unavoidable influence of the "objective" and "realistic" conventions of fiction pioneered in the novel during the eighteenth century. The short story cannot be considered a "new" form in the nineteenth century if it is simply a resurgence of the old romance. What must be examined is the result of the combination of the symbolic romance form with the new emphasis on the teller and the new focus on the "real," as opposed to the "ideal." Only then can we understand how reality can be shown to lie beneath the ordinary world of appearances even as the details of the story focus on the external world.
 I would like to suggest three basic implications of this shift that influence the short story form throughout the nineteenth century. First of all, the shift of emphasis from the sacred as a transcendent realm to taking it to be a human projection places a new focus not only on the imagination as the source of the sacred, but on the theme of the imaginative construction of reality itself. Consequently, short fiction of the nineteenth century often presents a situation that is ambiguously both real and imaginative. Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown" is the classic example. Second, the supernatural figures of the old romance story, which were formerly taken to be symbolic of transcendent values, are transformed into projective fictions of either the teller or the central character. Melville's Bartleby is such a seemingly supernatural yet ultimately metaphoric projective figure. Third, the teller, even though he  still focuses on the formerly supernatural subject matter of the old romance and folk tale, does so without belief in the supernatural or transcendent. The result is that he often is transformed into an ironic voice. As Boris Ejxenbaum has shown, Gogol's "Overcoat" is an experiment with this combination or folk tale and ironic voice. 
One way to approach the short story's romantic nature is to examine the question of when and where the short story form thrives and blossoms--the kind of social situation and cultural milieu wherein the short story seems more relevant to the concerns of a society than the novel. For example, George Lukacs has suggested that the short fiction form appears in either a phase of "a Not Yet" (Nochnicht) or in a phase of the "No Longer" (Nichtmehr).  Boccaccio's tales appear in an era before the modern bourgeois novel, before there was a  totality of human relations and behavior as interpreted by bourgeois society.
Lukacs says that  fiction withdraws from the novel into the short form when "the social basis, the social milieu of the novel disappears, and the central figure must hold his own against a pure natural occurrence. Lukacs might have added that this natural rather than social conflict does not come from the outside only. The inward turning of fiction begins in the romantic period and reaches such heights in the later nineteenth century that the  internalized, secularized, and projective romance form vies with the novel form for predominance. The modern return to this mode began with the Romantic period when character "revelation" rather than character "evolution" became most important and when the notion of epiphany replaced socially established value as the source of meaning. When external values are lost, then the short fiction form seems most appropriate to the milieu. The short story has always been an antisocial form, either in its adherence to mythic relationships or in its adoption of secularized psychological replacements for the lost myth. 
The short narrative form in the modern world, regardless of what sophistication it has received at the hands of contemporary artists, remains close to the presocial modes with which It began.  In a   Kenyon Review Symposium several years ago, writers from all over the world testified to this fact.  For example, Erih Kos of Yugoslavia said that since his country has only recently emerged from a peasant economy, it also has only recently emerged from the period of myths. The short story is a popular form in Yugoslavia, says Kos, because the people are "still under the influence of myths, whose magical lights give fateful significance to all everyday happenings, even apparently insignificant ones."
Because the short story does not deal with unified social values, the form seems to thrive best in societies where there is fragmentation of values and people. This fragmentation has often been cited as one reason why the short story became quickly popular in early nineteenth century America. In 1924, Katherine Fullerton Gerould said that American short story writers dealt with peculiar atmospheres and special moods, for America has no centralized civilization. "The short story does not need a complex and traditional background so badly as the novel does," argued Gerould.
 Wendell Harris and Lionel Stevenson have suggested somewhat the same reason for the predominance of the novel in English literature. Stevenson points out that as soon as a culture becomes more complex, brief narratives expand or "agglomerate" and thus cause the short story to lose its identity. The fragmentation of sensibility did not set in in England until about 1880 at which time the short story came to the fore as the best medium for presenting this fragmentation. Wendell Harris also reminds us that the nineties in England were known as the golden age of the short story and notes how with the fragmentation of sensibility, perspective or "angle of vision "becomes most important in fiction, especially in the short story in which, instead of a world to enter as in the novel, the form presents a vignette to contemplate. 
Harris has also noted that from Fielding to Hardy, fiction was defined in England as "a presentation of life in latitudinal or longitudinal completeness." This concept of narrative paralleled man's intellectual concern with society;  thus the short story was thought to be insignificant in England until late in the nineteenth century when the appropriate vision for it arrived. The "essence of the short story" says Harris, "is to isolate, to portray the individual person, or moment, or scene in isolation detached from the great continuum  at once social and historical, on which it had been the business of the English novel, and the great concern of nineteenth century essayists, to insist." As Frank O'Connor has noted, whereas the  novel can adhere to the classical concept of a civilized society, "the short story, remains, by its very nature remote from the community  romantic, individualistic, and intransigent."
In the most generalized sense, then, the basic development of short narrative, from its origins in mythic accounts up through the beginning of the nineteenth century, can be summarized in the following way: Beginning with the first major shift from the old romance story of the middle ages when Boccaccio secularized the tale form and made a human comedy out of a previously divine one, continuing on up through the eighteenth century, the history of the form is one of a developing movement away from the metaphoric parable toward the realistic in which, although the "end" of the story was still to focus on a moral purpose, the "means" of the story was to appeal to verisimilitude and reason and to depend on the involvement and attitude of the individual teller.  
With Horace Walpole's experimental combining of the romance story with novelistic characters in "The Castle of Otranto," we see a  self-conscious effort to return to the old metaphoric romance form while using the methods of verisimilitude of the novel. The result was that gothic fiction became projective, dealing not with external values, but with subjective values, with dream material and psychologized reality. Mrs. Barbauld's experiment with the gothic fragment "Sir Bertrand" further emphasized the projective origins of short fiction by detaching character and event from any semblance of social framework and presenting story as the embodiment of dream. With the gothic writers and the romantic poets of the early part of the nineteenth century, we see a shift away from a concept of language as referential and the art work  as imitative to a view of language as constitutive and the art work as creative.
The Romantics demythologized the old tales and ballads, divesting them of their external values and remythologized them by internalizing those values and self-consciously projecting them outwards. The Romantics wished to preserve the old religious values of the romance and ballad forms without their religious dogma and mythological trappings. By perceiving the origin of the old story mode to be within basic psychic processes, they secularized the myth by radically foregrounding the subjective and projective nature of story. 
This effort to return to the old religious perception of the world discarded by the eighteenth century was spearheaded by Wordsworth and Coleridge in the  Lyrical Ballads. The ballad story, which had previously existed seemingly in vacuo as received story without the influence of the teller, now became infused with the subjectivity of the poet and projected onto the world as a new mythus. Value existed in the world outside, but as the Romantics never forgot, only because it existed first within the imagination of the artist. This basically romantic view infused the epoch- making Lyrical Ballads and underlies an important distinction between the romantic lyric and eighteenth century poetry before it. 

The Romantics' fascination with medievalism and folk material sprang from their realization of the basic religious or spiritual source of both the old romance and the folk ballad. Their return to the old ballads was part of their effort to recapture the primal  religious experience without received dogma. This is indeed the focus in Wordsworth's "Preface to the Lyrical Ballads" and in Coleridge's discussion of his and Wordsworth's dual tasks in The Biographia Literaria. As Robert Langbaum has argued, the uniting of the old ballad material with the lyric voice of  a single individual perceiver in a concrete situation gave rise to the romantic lyric. The positioning of a real speaker in a concrete situation encountering a particular phenomenon which his own subjectivity transforms from the profane into the sacred is the key to the Romantic breakthrough. 
  As Coleridge says, his own task was to focus on the supernatural, "yet so as to transfer from our inward nature a human interest and a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith."  Wordsworth, on the other hand, was to choose subjects from ordinary life and "excite a feeling analogous to the supernatural by awakening the mind's attention from the lethargy of custom and directing it to the loveliness and wonders of the world before us." Clear examples of this dual project are Coleridge's lyrical story, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and Wordsworth's lyrical story, "Resolution and Independence."  In the Lyrical Ballads, the ballad or "story" element, the hard outlines of the event, are subsumed by the lyrical element, which is foregrounded. However, in America, for Hawthorne and Poe, it is the story element that is foregrounded. The lyrical element is  primarily reflected by the personal voice of the teller. 
Consequently, while America is usually given the credit for originating the short story, it is clear that the basic impulse for the form began in England with the Romantic poets. Because the new subjective narrative impulse was fulfilled by Romantic poetry and fiction in England was identified with the realistic impulse of the novel, the short story did not develop in England during the Romantic period. However, this is not to say that one cannot find examples in short narrative during the period of the conventions which later dominate the short story. 
In next week's post, I will discuss three well known and often cited short narratives from the early nineteenth century in England to point out how they make use of, although perhaps not with the same facility as stories in America and on the Continent, the same devices and assumptions that underlie the more accepted beginnings of the form with Poe and Gogol.  I choose Lamb's "Dream Children" because of its focus on the tension between reality and imagination; John Polidori's "The Vampyre," because of the projective nature of its character configuration; and Sir Walter Scott's "Wandering Willie's Tale" because of the relationship between its narrator and the traditional ballad story.  I will provide footnote documentation at the end of Part II of this discussion.