Publishing short stories : British modernist fiction and the literary marketplace

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Date

2012-08

Authors

Zacks, Aaron Shanohn

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Abstract

The short story was the most profitable literary form for most fiction-writers of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries because it was quick to write, relative to novels, marketable to a wide variety of periodicals, and able to be re-sold, in groups, for book collections. While the majority of writers composed short fiction within conventional modes and genres and published collections rarely exhibiting more than a superficial coherence of setting or character, modernist authors found in the form’s brevity helpful restrictions on their stylistic and narrative experiments, and, in the short story collection, an opportunity to create book-length works exhibiting new, modern kinds of coherence. This dissertation examines four modernists' experiences writing short stories and publishing them in periodicals and books: Henry James in The Yellow Book and Terminations (Heinemann, 1895); Joseph Conrad in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine and Youth: A Narrative; and Two Other Stories (Blackwood, 1902); James Joyce in The Irish Homestead and Dubliners (Grant Richards, 1914); and Virginia Woolf in Monday or Tuesday (Hogarth, 1921). For these writers, the production of short fiction within the literary marketplace had definite and important consequences on their texts as well as the formation of their mature authorial identities. (With the exception of James, I focus on the early, most impressionable periods of the writers’ careers.) In bucking the commercial trend of miscellaneous collections, the unified book of stories came to represent, for such artists, something of a bibliographic rebellion, which, because of its inherent formal fragmentation, proved a compelling and fruitful site for their exploration of modernist themes and styles. The conclusion explores some of the consequences of these experiences on the writers’ subsequent, longer texts—Lord Jim, Ulysses, and Jacob's Room—arguing that such so-called “novels” can be understood better if studied within the literary and professional contexts created by their authors’ engagements with the short story. The same is true of the “short story cycle,” “sequence,” and “composite,” as strongly-coherent books of stories have been termed variously by scholars. This dissertation, particularly its introduction, sets out to provide historical, material background for scholarship on this too-long neglected literary genre.

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