صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

but the Italian's unique collection of prose tales remained unknown and unused. It is one of the cruel fatalities in the history of literature !

The late Middle Age was the period of mystery and visions, and it was natural that Chaucer's genius should develop through and out of the allegory. The famous courtly allegory, the “Romaunt of the Rose,” was translated, at least in part, by him, from the French short couplets into corresponding English ones. The allegorical method and form were still followed in the “Parlement of Foules" and the “House of Fame." In his rendering of Boccaccio's story in verse, the “ Troilus and Criseyde,” Chaucer made an advance upon his original by imparting to his own work a wealth of characterization and of descriptive and narrative power. He then began stringing together a series of sketches or characterizations to form the “ Legend of Good Women"; but the artificiality of the subjectmatter becoming apparent, he exchanged these for the splendid inspiration of the Tales connected by means of the Canterbury pilgrimage.

In his earlier allegorical manner Chaucer was followed by a host of imitators in fifteenth-century England and Scotland, the literary movement culminating later in two such differing geniuses as Spenser on the one hand and Bunyan on the other. But Chaucer himself, as we have just seen, turned away from symbolic subjects and all unnatural work, first to character portrayal in old tales and then to the reproduction of contemporary life itself. And then, with these two examples in England and in Italy, of geniuses for narrative similar yet far apart, the finer phases of the art of tale-telling seemed to die out.

In England the age of Elizabeth gave life to a noble dramatic literature, but the genius of storytelling was rendered ineffective by a tendency toward extravagant and extraneous irrelevances. Other countries furnished better evidences that the art was still a living one — notably in the productions of Rabelais in France and of Cervantes in Spain. Writing with very different purposes, both show the genius of the time by their digressions, and each introduces shorter stories within the limits of the larger tale. After a period of interminable pastoral and chivalric romances we come to Queen Anne's day, when we first remark a change. The genius of Steele and Addison, sketching the manners and foibles of the town, produces the strongly marked character of Sir Roger de Coverley and the compact imaginative allegory of “The Vision of Mirza.” Defoe's journalistic genius enables him to make marvellously accurate reports of events like the apparition of Mrs. Veal, to create a world-classic in “Robinson Crusoe," and to lay the foundations of the realistic novel in “Moll Flanders” and “Roxana.” The later eighteenth century saw the rise of the novel of manners. It produced the detailed analysis of a woman's heart in Richardson's “Clarissa," the novel

with epic breadth in Fielding's “Tom Jones," the rollicking adventure stories of Smollett, and the sentimentalized whimsies of Laurence Sterne. It was the century of letter-writing, social activity, eloquence, politics, human intercourse; but not of the imaginative bonhomie needed for what we regard as the short story. And when Sir Walter Scott came, he may have told historical “ Tales of a Grandfather" to children, but his characteristic work is seen in his ballads and lays, and at length in his famous series of romances and novels.

The short story, then, as we understand it, is something very modern. It satisfies a modern need and is a modern invention. It never worked itself out into a distinct form in British literature, but first developed almost contemporaneously in America and in France early in the nineteenth century. This arose partly from conditions and partly from the genius of the two peoples. The French short story, or conte, has all the genius of the French nation, - unity of design, a feeling for form, a definite point, and a suggested moral. Conditions, too, are important, the modern magazine and newspaper being largely responsible for the development of the form, particularly in our own country.

In America the short story may be said to have begun in 1819 with Washington Irving's “Rip Van Winkle,” and to have received definite form and expression in the thirties at the hands of Poe and Hawthorne. In France it was practically contemporary, at first with Théophile Gautier, Balzac, — who has deeply influenced all modern fiction, — Prosper Mérimée. Later it flourished in the hands of François Coppée, Alphonse Daudet, Guy de Maupassant, and others. In Russia the greatest name in the annals of the short story, as of all fiction, is Turgeniev. England proper has not seemed to succeed so well in the form, and Scotland's chief representative, Stevenson, and the Anglo-Indian representative of the Empire, Kipling, won their laurels late.

In every country the history of the genre has been much the same. It is modern and has become common, yet at its best it has been achieved only by high talents or by genius. Critics have studied it, and Professor Brander Matthews, who first called attention to the specific features that differentiate it from all other forms of narrative, has even gone so far as to spell it with a capital, and with a hyphen — Short-story. We need not do this, yet we may with him recognize essential differences and pertinent characteristics.

What are some of the characteristics which have been consciously adopted into this modern art and which showed themselves spasmodically in earlier generations? First, being a story, unity; and second, being short, brevity and compactness. There is or should be but one action, one place, and a short division of time, one day even - all the unities of the old

“ classic" play. Herein may be traced another reason why the short story is peculiarly adapted to the French genius, which always manifests itself best in purity and singleness of form.

The short story by its very nature must not be too long. In turn, the short story has been degraded into the “storiette "; but this is no true progeny. The short story is full of art — artificial even — but always artistic. The rules are very elastic and the kinds are numerous, and nearly every one ventures to try his hand at it. But, as has been said, its demands on art make it impossible for any one but a master really to succeed in it. It is the art, at its best, of Poe and Hawthorne, of Daudet and Maupassant, of Stevenson and Kipling, who have given a new conception and ideal of the species.

The short story is one in subject, and this oneness or unity is intimately revealed in the structure. Thus the particular event or phase or point of view or emotion must be seized and held, in the process of making, in the shaping itself. In content there is usually a single leading character about whom the story is told. There is a single dramatic situation or a single welldefined setting or background. There is, nevertheless, abundant opportunity for the display of originality — for an ingenious surprise or turn or situation. There is, too, the demand for compression, which heightens the effect of these qualities.

The development is swift - something is doing.

« السابقةمتابعة »