gt;gt; Chapter One gt; It is a widely accepted argument – and one that students of literature should, therefore, beware of – that the modern British short story, and even the British short story gt;tout courtgt;, dates from around 1880. For example, Clare Hanson writes of her important study of short fiction: "The year 1880 has been chosen as a convenient opening date for this study because it marks a point when the short story began to flower in England" (1985: 8). Valerie Shaw also sees the last two decades of the nineteenth century as being crucial for the development of the short story in Britain. "Only towards the end of the nineteenth century," she writes, "when in fact all branches of literature and the arts were becoming acutely self-conscious, did people begin to acknowledge that short fiction might be shaped according to its own principles" (Shaw 1983: 3). The classic statement of this position is that of Dean Baldwin in his influential essay "The Tardy Evolution of the British Short Story" (1993). He puts it thus: gt; One of the more curious anomalies of literary history is why the short story was so late to blossom in Britain. By the 1840s the genre was already established in America, and within two decades it had taken root in Germany, Russia, and France ... [The] modern short story did not achieve prominence in Britain till the 1880s, even though Britain would appear especially likely to develop the genre, since during the period of the story's "invention" ... Britain was world leader in the writing and dissemination of fiction. (Baldwin 1993: 23) gt; In his essay, Baldwin argues that a late development of short fiction in Britain can be attributed largely to "literary economics" (23). He points to the mass production of newspapers andmagazines in nineteenth-century Britain. By the 1830s, there were titles with large circulations catering for a wide range of readerships. These journals would seem to offer perfect outlets for short fiction. However, Baldwin insists that the short story brought little "financial gain or public fame" to authors in this period (27). The novel's prestige within the literary system of nineteenth-century England meant that it was the form of choice (or of demand) for writers of fiction. The short story had little status (it was a type of fiction associated, if anything, with cheap publications for the semi-educated), and, indeed, made little money for writers. Baldwin contrasts this situation with that of American writers for whom the short story was profitable. There were outlets for short stories in the USA, and such was the standing of the British novel in the US market, that American writers were forced to turn to the shorter form. The 1870s were a watershed in Britain. Influences from the USA, including the personal influence of Henry James and American theorizing about short fiction (Brander Matthews's developments, in the 1880s, of Poe's ideas about the short story), changed the literary interests of a generation of British writers. Baldwin's argument is a powerful one. gt; Yet there had been short fictional narratives in British literature for centuries before the 1880s. Barbara Korte sets out a full history of early-modern and eighteenth-century short prose narratives. These include jest books, rogue literature, essays and character sketches, oriental tales, sentimental stories, and moral treatises. Authors of note range from Robert Greene, William Painter, Aphra Behn, and Daniel Defoe, to Richard Steele, Thomas Addison, and Samuel Johnson (Korte 2003: 35–62). In the nineteenth century, before the1880s, many important writers tried their hands at short fiction. Ivan Reid describes the short story as gt;thegt; Romantic form (Reid 1977: 28), and the Gothic tale is a central Romantic prose genre that lasts throughout the nineteenth century. A role call of nineteenth-century British authors who wrote short stories is impressive: John Galt, Elizabeth Gaskell, Thackeray, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Trollope, and George Eliot (Fowler 1987: 302–310). But, finally, the short story does not appear to have been very important for them. Harold Orel's study of the Victorian short story is a particularly interesting and nuanced discussion of pre-1880 British short fiction. His argument is set out clearly in the introduction to his book. gt; The Victorian Age, a richly productive literary period, is notable for (among other things) its nurturing of the short story. The genre had been ill-defined in earlier centuries, and for much of the nineteenth century attracted little critical attention as a new and increasingly popular reading diversion. Many Victorian authors regarded it with suspicion, as a diversion from more profitable novels and plays; even when prospering periodicals paid them decent wages for short stories that pleased readers, authors usually neglected to collect them and reprint them in hard covers. gt; (Orel 1986: ix) gt; gt; In detailed discussions of pre-1880 writers of short stories, Orel points to the low place those texts occupied and occupy in their gt;uvregt;. For example, with regard to Dickens, he writes: "His short stories ... were evidently byproducts, and on occasions only filler materials" (64). Of Trollope, he notes: "Trollope, like Dickens, earned his bread and butter from his novels, and thought his short stories commercially viable, but on the whole marginal material for the making of a reputation" (79). An essay in gt;Fraser's Magazinegt; from 1856 summed up the situation thus: "The English ... will have nothing to do with a story unless it is in three volumes" (qtd. in Harris 1979: 91). gt; All this changed in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. Many factors were involved. There was a relatively large urban literate population eager for inexpensive literate entertainment. Journals and magazines were set up to cater to this market (Newnes's gt;Tit-Bitsgt; and gt;The Strand Magazinegt;, for example). In addition, avant-garde magazines like gt;The Yellow Bookgt; and gt;The Savoygt; were aimed at a higher-class, bohemian audience. The three-decker novel, for literary and economic reasons, had run out of steam and become gt;passégt;. Writers simply wanted to do something new. The gt;fin-de-sièclegt; was a period of expanding intellectual, aesthetic, political and moral horizons. A new form substantially untainted by the past could flourish then, especially among writers who, like Stevenson and Crackanthorpe, had read their shortfiction-writing American or French predecessors and contemporaries. (For fuller discussions of these issues, see: Böker 2005: 32–34; Hunter 2007: 6–7; Orel 1986: 184–192.) At the end of the nineteenth century, H. G. Wells remarked, "short stories broke out everywhere" (qtd. in Hanson 1985: 34), and became, according to Henry James, "an object of almost extravagant dissertation" (qtd. in Shaw 1983: 3). That interest is scarcely surprising, given the number and quality of the writers working in the form: Stevenson, Kipling, Conrad, James, Gissing, Wells, Conan Doyle, M. R. James, Ernest Dowson, Hubert Crackanthorpe, Ella D'Arcy, George Egerton, and Wilde. Writers also reflected on what they were doing with short fiction, in a way that no earlier British writer did. James (an American, but working very substantially within a British literary world) is particularly important in this respect (Hunter 2007: 2, 7). gt; The rapid development of the short story in Britain in the space of a decade can be illustrated by the sophistication, complexity, and sheer vivid bravura of a text by Rudyard Kipling, "The Mark of the Beast" (published first in Britain in gt;Life's Handicap: Being Stories of Mine Own Peoplegt; ). A chilling supernatural story, and a complex story of imperial adventure (both major genres of the period), its action is laid in North India "[s]ome years" prior to the time of narration. On New Year's Eve, British soldiers, planters, and other official and civilian representatives of the Empire, all men, gather at the "club," for a riotous drunken evening of racial and male solidarity. One of their number, a planter called Fleete, on his way home with the narrator, and Strickland, a policeman, desecrates the temple of the Monkey-god Hanuman. The outraged crowd that gathers lets the British go, but only after a leper has touched Fleete on the chest. As the rest of the day progresses, it becomes clear that Fleete has been bewitched by the leper and is turning into a beast. The narrator and Strickland capture the leper and, it is implied, torture him into releasing Fleete from the curse. gt; The narrator of the text is a figure who recurs in many Kipling stories of this period, a knowledgeable and experienced European, who has excellent connections within the world of British India. The principal character is Strickland, a figure who also recurs in Kipling short stories, a shrewd and also very knowledgeable British colonial police officer. The characters are divided clearly into certain groups. The most obvious division is racial. The men at the club (servants are not mentioned) are all British; they are surrounded by a world of Indians. Indeed, the reader is informed that for many of the British characters, the New Year's Eve festivities are so important because of the racial isolation of the rest of their lives. Characters are also divided into those who know and do not know (a very common division in Kipling's fiction). Strickland "knows as much of natives of India as is good for any man"; the narrator, too, knows a great deal, both about the British in India, and about the wider world, of Hanuman, of lepers, and of horses. Fleete knows nothing of India. He ends up knowing nothing of the plight he has fallen into and from which Strickland and the narrator have saved him. The characters are further divided into the civilized and the not civilized. The leper from the Indian world is scarcely human; he has no face and makes a "noise exactly like the mewing of an otter"; he turns Fleete into an animal that grubs in Strickland's garden and howls like a wolf; he circles the policeman's house, an embodiment of subhuman terror. Against that is set, largely by implication, a British world of doctors, policemen, soldiers, and tea-planters – the inside of Strickland's house. The division is, indeed, clearly marked by spatial contrast: the club and Strickland's house as opposed to the city, the temple, and even Strickland's garden; relative safety as opposed to danger for the unwary or unlucky. But the division of civilized and uncivilized is far from clear by the end of the text. Fleete pollutes Hanuman's temple; one of the priests speaks perfect English; Strickland and the narrator behave with disturbing cruelty to the leper (the narrative's elision here draws attention to their violence). gt; "The Mark of the Beast" is a skillfully organized tale of supernatural horror. The leper is a truly frightening figure, an emanation from a sinister orientalist nightmare. The text is also a complex story of imperial adventure, both embodying the genre's conventions and querying them. The life of the British in India and the Indian city that surrounds them is captured in economical flashes of detail. Racial lines are clearly drawn, and simultaneously blurred, for the story is, further, a reflection (like other texts in gt;Life's Handicapgt;) on the dangers for the British of coming too close to India. The motif of racial and cultural fear, however, is balanced by a complexity, whereby Fleete does behave abominably and his saviors behave worse, and know that they do. It is in part a revisionist recension of the genre to which it partly belongs. gt; The fin-de-siècle also brought a kind of short story that was to become very important in the twentieth century, the scientific romance that evolved into science fiction by the 1930s. H. G. Wells is most associated with this genre, and "The Star" is a representative example (first published in gt;Graphicgt; in 1897, and published in book form in gt;Tales of Space and Timegt; ). It is anapocalyptic story. A "vast mass of matter ... bulky, heavy, rushing without warning out of the black mystery of the sky into the radiance of the sun" collides with the planet Neptune. The two "locked in a fiery embrace" draw nearer and nearer the earth, causing cataclysmic earthquakes, floods, tidal waves, the melting of snows and ice, bringing terrible destruction and loss of life. After some days, the new body passes by the earth, and, cautiously, after the catastrophe a new life starts. The story is made credible by traditional verisimilitude devices: the mention of authorities, the figure of the scientist and mathematician, the initially detailed time line. gt; The story offers different perspectives on the new "star": that of scientists and astronomers, people in the street, women in a dancehall, a schoolboy, tramps, African lovers, a great mathematician, the crowds and masses of the endangered and dying. The story concludes with the point of view of Martian astronomers, for whom the cataclysm is, in fact, minor. It offers its readers the thrill and horror of the apocalypse, stressing the fragility and triviality of human life and civilization in the vast indifference of space and the almost equally vast indifference of another species. Suddenly, our world is seen from a fresh perspective and the old is swept away by a brilliant and deadly new phenomenon. However, the text also draws attention to its own fictive and textual status in a sophisticated manner. The perspective of the Martians is quite unexplained. How does the narrator obtain their point of view? Thus, the story advertises its own imaginative quality. This is augmented by the highly self-advertising syntax of the whole piece. Biblical sentences and lists make it apparent that the story is a rhetorical performance, an elaborate and creative game. For a moment, the reader is to imagine a new world made by art. gt; The range of fin-de-siècle short fiction was considerable. By the late 1890s, the reader could also encounter a short story like Ella D'Arcy's "The Villa Lucienne" (published in gt;The Yellow Bookgt; in 1896, and in the collection gt;Modern Instancesgt; in 1898). gt; This framed story (written in, by contemporary standards, an informal and accessible English) is mostly an account by Madame Koetlegon of a visit to an abandoned villa on the French Riviera. The frame paragraph, written by an unnamed narrator, recounts the skill with which Madame Koetlegon told her story, so that the audience can share her experience, but, really, the narrator points out, "as you will see, in reality there is no story at all." A group of ladies visits the Villa Lucienne because one of them, presumably the recently widowed Cécile, is considering renting it. They pass from the garden of a nearby villa, the Villa Soleil, through a dark and damp trellised passage to the dilapidated villa in the middle of a garden run wild. A surly caretaker shows them over the house; the ladies become frightened, convinced that something sinister has happened in the past; the child in their company is sure that she saw an old lady watching her. The text achieves its effect through contrasting settings. It is a beautiful day in December; olives are being harvested; the garden of the Villa Soleil is rich and lovely; the view from the villa's balcony is entrancing. These settings are set against the vile passage through which the group passes to the Villa Lucienne, the disorder of its garden, the shabby dilapidation of the once beautiful home, its malevolent guardian and its sinister atmosphere. The story deploys Gothic conventions in a sophisticated way. It is marked as a story from the beginning; it only hints at the horrors of the supernatural. Indeed, it is almost lacking traditional/conventional story materials. But the elisions in the narrative are telling. The reader knows nothing of the past occupants of the Villa Lucienne, but much is hinted at, in, for example, the "long ragged fragment of lace" caught on "the girandole of a pier-glass," torn off from a dress as someone passed by in haste. The elision with regard to the party of ladies is even more marked and more revealing. Cécile's husband Guy has recently died. His absence is made prominent by the presence of his beloved dog, and by Madame Koetlegon's sense that only he could have captured or expressed (how is ambiguous) the experience of the sinister villa. The story finally becomes an evocation of the ladies' sense of loss and their experience of the sadness of things and time. gt; gt;(Continues...)gt; gt; gt; gt;gt; gt;gt;gt; Excerpted from gt;The British and Irish Short Story Handbookgt; by gt;David Malcolmgt; Copyright © 2012 by David Malcolm. Excerpted by permission of John Wiley & Sons. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.gt;Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.