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Short Story Theory at a Crossroads, and: Re-reading the Short Story (review)

Wendell Aycock

MFS Modern Fiction Studies, Volume 37, Number 2, Summer 1991, pp. 337-338 (Article) Published by The Johns Hopkins University Press DOI: 10.1353/mfs.0.0747

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Hassall, Anthony, ed. Randolph Stow: Visitants, Episodes from Other Novels, Poems, Stories, Interviews, and Essays. Queensland: U of Queensland P, 1990. 453 pp. $18.95. Hoffman, Anne Golomb. Between Exile and Return: S. Y. Agnon and the Drama of Writing. Albany:
State U of New York P, 1991. 236 pp.


Susan Lohafer and Jo Ellyn Clarey, eds. Short Story Theory at a Crossroads. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1989. 354 pp. $29.95. Clare Hanson, ed. Re-reading the Short Story. New York: St. Martin's, 1989. 139
pp. $35.00.

In his "Preface" to Twentieth-Century Short Story Explication: 1961-1991, An Index, Warren Walker says: "Over the past three decades 16,691 stories by 2,304 authors worldwide have, to our knowledge, been explicated in major Western languages."
In view of these numbers, it hardly seems necessary, as Clare Hanson says in

the "Introduction" to Re-reading the Short Story, to "re-establish the short story as a legitimate subject for discussion." The short story has too frequently and mistakenly been called an underrated genre that is largely ignored by critics. In
fact, some first-rate scholars have worked on it. Warren Walker, William Peden,

Thomas Gullason, Charles May, Eugene Current-Garcia, and others have done
splendid work on short stories during past decades. Lohafer, with Coming to Terms with the Short Story, and Hanson, with Short Stories and Short Fictions, 1880-1980,

both have contributed to the criticism of the genre, and, in their most recent works (this time Lohafer is joined by Clarey), they look at it in terms of modern
critical theory. In the introduction to Section Three of Short Story Theory at a Crossroads, Lohafer observes about Austin Wright's article: "This is an essay that draws upon contemporary theory but relies, finally, on a timeless sensitivity to literary experience."

The same might be said for the book as a whole, for Lohafer and Clarey are sensitive to previous treatments of the genre while, at the same time, they consider it in relation to such contemporary theories as reader response, discourse

analysis, and so on. Particular emphasis on genre (the nature of the short story and what distinguishes it from other genres) is a recurrent feature of the book. Division titles indicate this emphasis, for example, "What Is a Short Story?" "How Has Story Evolved?" "How Is Story Processed?" Titles of articles also emphasize genre: "Recent Short Story Theories: Problems in Definition" by Norman Friedman; "On Defining die Short Story: The Genre Question" by Austin M. Wright; and "The Rise of the Short Story in the Hierarchy of Genres" by

Suzanne Ferguson. Among the number of interesting articles dealing with theory
is Susan Lohafer's "Preclosure and Story Processing" where she declares, "This volume itself came about because a significant number of short story critics are pushing the boundaries, looking over fences, trying to redefine the nature and aims of their study. With Suzanne Hunter Brown, I believe discourse analysis is particularly suggestive for short story critics." With its fifteen articles and five introductions to them, Short Story Theory at a Crossroads does push at boundaries and examine the nature of the genre at the beginnings of the 1990s. A shorter book with a similar emphasis, Re-reading the Short Story, is a collection of ten essays first presented at a symposium at the College of St. Paul and St. Mary, Cheltenham in 1986. Hanson points out in the "Introduction" that there are two groups of five essays each, "the first being theoretical in orientation, the second more text-based." Again, a recurrent concern in the first articles

is genrewhat makes a short story distinctive? In her article, "A Poetics of Short
Fiction," Hanson herself gives definition to the genre by comparing its structure

to that of dreams, referring often to Lacan's theories. The nature of the short story's shortness is analyzed in Nicole Ward Jouve's "Too Short for a Book?" and in Jean Pickering's "Time and the Short Story." Feminist criticism and the
short story is the topic in Mary Eagleton's "Gender and Genre." Works by Alice Munro, Sylvia Plath, John McGahern, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald,

and Doris Lessing are topics examined in the next five articles. Among these, critical theory is also apparent. Genette's Narrative Discourse, for example, is the starting point for Robert Hampson's analysis of Munro's and Plath's works in "Johnny Panic and the Pleasures of Disruption."
These works differ in tone and examples cited, for the contributors to Re-

reading the Short Story are primarily British, whereas those of Short Story Theory at
a Crossroads are from the United States. The nature and quality of the individual articles also vary, as might be expected from collections of articles. Both works, however, present some meaningful insights into how contemporary theory applies to the short story genre, and both develop some interesting strategies toward defining the illusive genre, the short story.

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