The Victorian short story: A textual culture's forgotten genre


This study claims a space for the Victorian short story in the literary canon. It explores what forces were at work between 1830, when the rise of the magazine created a venue for short story publication, and 1884, when critics codified the British short story. Contemporary criticism tends to compare the short story to the novel to show what it lacks. This project examines the short story in relation to the novel to see what it reveals about the novel as well as what it offers short story writers. Ultimately, the short story develops as a reaction against the limitations imposed upon authors by the novel and by the culture that so strongly valorizes the novel. Although British writers failed to theorize overtly about the short story's form, close readings indicate that they delineate the short story's aesthetic in an economy of narrative and thematic confinement. Significantly, that confinement allows them to take liberties with subject and plot in the short story that they could not take in the novel. In fact, writers of the short story revise the novel's realist aesthetic. The rise of photography assists writers with this revision. As the photograph captures the Victorian imagination, a shared aesthetic develops between the two art forms that teaches readers and writers that meaning is subject to interpretation. The stories suggest that the novel's objective, omniscient third-person narrator may not accurately reflect the reality of the Victorians after all. This project suggests several opportunities for scholarship and teaching. For scholarship, it brings to light texts previously unknown to many readers, offering them new insights into well-known authors' oeuvres. Second, it suggests lines of inquiry for those interested in the ways a text can be shaped by its publication and market. For teaching, it delineates ways of complementing studies of the novel, either through the themes of confinement and freedom or the themes of marriage and community. Finally, it provides a fascinating look at the self-conscious development of a genre as it finds its own generic aesthetic

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This paper was published in DSpace at Rice University.

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