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The Classic Short Story, 1870-1925

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Florence Goyet

Part I: Structure

2. Antithetic Structure

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1By the paroxystic characterisation we have just observed, the classic short story makes its characters into the exemplary representatives of their category: the Rebel and the Rich Young Man; the Great Author and the Devoted Critic. These become almost abstract entities. What is lost in the individualisation of the characters, however, is gained in the efficacy of the plot. The interest shifts from individuals to the development of the story itself, for which such characters are remarkably well adapted. The essential feature of the short story then becomes its structure, which, at the period we are considering in the late nineteenth century, is nearly always based on antithesis.

  • 1 See Irving Saposnik’s insistence on the absolute necessity not to separate the two sides of the ch (...)

2Of the thousand stories of this period I have reviewed, almost all are organised by antithesis at a deeper level. This structuring antithesis is not a decorative figure of speech, merely there to create a harmonious balance, but a powerful dynamic device. It is a tension as enormous as the paroxysms it builds on, and it can be best described in terms borrowed from physics. It is as if the short story were “charging” its magnetic poles — the narrative elements — through paroxysms. The relationship that is established between the fully charged poles — the magnetic field — is more important than each of the poles themselves. In this way, the narrative structure takes precedence over the characters. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is emblematic of this deep antithetical tension.1 In this most famous of short stories, the reader is very aware of the structuring force of the antithesis: what has become proverbial is no single trait of any one of the characters, but the truly radical opposition between the two characteristics — angelic and satanic — of the hero. The short story’s power comes from placing an oxymoron — the taut coexistence of two opposing forces — on the level of the entire text. Stevenson insists that the doctor is a true benefactor of humanity, as much as he insists that Hyde is a monster, because there can be no oxymoron without tension, or lively antithesis without extremes.

  • 2 A much-maligned author, O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) is nevertheless regularly rehabilitated b (...)

3O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi provides another example of symmetrical characters.2 The extremes are embodied in a couple of young people, Della and Jim, so poor that they each possess only one item of value. In order to give the other a worthy gift, each sacrifices this treasure, buying an object that is meant to enhance the luster of the other’s prize possession. Della has only her hair, which she sells to a merchant in order to buy a chain worthy of Jim’s Watch (the capital letter is O. Henry’s). Jim only possesses a watch, a treasure that he saved through all his misfortunes; he sells it to buy Della combs worthy of her hair. When they meet, they discover their symmetrical sacrifice.

  • 3 Saposnik (1974) says the same thing about Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Struck by the number of interpret (...)

4The story’s delight comes from the recognition of this symmetry, and O. Henry dwells on it in his conclusion by praising this reciprocal love that sacrifices its only treasure to the other. Note that the moment the symmetry has been declared, the anecdote ends: the effect is achieved, the short story is complete. This structure is necessary and adequate to the text: its seven pages call for no further development. And this is also what makes this text a classic short story. If we had only been given the first part of the text, it would merely have been an account of a “good deed”, like many others found in Christmas issues of early twentieth-century magazines. By adding the second part, O. Henry creates a dramatic knot: by revealing that Jim has bought combs for the shorn hair, he creates a tension that is enough to leave the impression of completion. Note also that this symmetry dispenses with the need to construct complex characters. Della is described at length at the beginning of the text, but the characterization is no more than the development of a single concept: that of the Young-Girl-Beautiful-and-Beloved. Jim is never described. It is enough for him to be symmetrical with Della for us to have a clear picture of him. He is her mirror image, a sort of male Della. We do not need a description, we can create him in our minds on the same lines as her.3

  • 4 “[...] it seemed [to Tallow Candle] he couldn’t wait to take his bride home on the back of his bay (...)

5The juxtaposition of two antithetic poles avoids the need for psychological justification of the characters’ actions. In Giovanni Verga’s Gramigna’s Mistress, which we looked at in the last chapter, we see Peppa suddenly abandoning her rich fiancé, Tallow Candal, to join “the Rebel”). Peppa’s “decision” takes up half a line and has no justification or explanation.4 On the first page we see the full extent of the menace Gramigna wagers over the country. Without the slightest transition, we move on to the portrait of Tallow Candle and his extreme riches, and to the announcement of the marriage. By the end of the same paragraph Peppa announces her refusal of Tallow Candle and her desire for no one else but Gramigna. There is not a single reflection on the part of the characters or of the narrator that explains the necessity or reasons for such a relinquishment.

6This rapid transition is somehow not jarring for the reader because the men are presented as two elements of an opposition, each equally prodigious: they are “equivalent”. This connection has only to be suggested for it to seem justified and natural, because it is already understood that they are two faces of the same phenomenon. Peppa’s sudden change is justified because she has passed from the height of riches to the depths of poverty, from one pole to the other of the narration. The counterproof is enough to convince us: what text could possibly portray an ordinary young woman who gives up an ordinary engagement for an even more ordinary one, without producing a battery of arguments to justify such a refusal? In other words, the structure is one of the means of making possible the brevity of the text.

  • 5 Many short stories include this antithesis in their title: Miguel de Cervantes’ The Illustrious Ki (...)
  • 6 For Tieck, the Novelle is defined by its Wendepunkt (“wird sie immer jenen sonderbaren auffallende (...)
  • 7 Charles E. May discussed Tieck’s theory in “The Unique Effect of the Short Story: A Reconsideratio (...)
  • 8 “While symmetrical design of some sort will frequently be present in a short story, it is patently (...)

7I will not spend time proving that there are many antitheses in short stories, which would be as easy as it is unnecessary;5 instead I will try to isolate the effects produced by the oxymoronic tension, like detecting the presence of electricity. Perhaps the most important point is that, in most cases, there is no narrative reversal. Ludwig Tieck developed the argument that the short story’s specificity depended on a Wendepunkt: the narrative line revolves as on a “pivot”.6 This theory was greatly discussed and soon challenged — commentators argued that there are many short stories that contain no reversal, and others which provide several of them.7 At the same time, however, many critics still stress the recurrence of narrative contrasts and reversals in short stories.8

  • 9 This is so true that it was the substance of much criticism at the end of the twentieth century, a (...)

8All of them are right. But Tieck’s argument must be made at a different level: to speak of “narrative reversal” puts the analysis on the level of the textual surface, whereas in reality it is almost unthinkable that a genre of such vitality could be linked for long to a single trick of composition.9 If we look at the profound organising principles rather than superficial forms, we will rediscover what the critics knew intuitively: the short story does proceed by “contrast”. But this antithesis — which is the in-depth organising principle of the classic short story — does not always operate using the same elements.

  • 10 Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, Japanese Short Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, ed. by Kojima Takashi (New Yor (...)
  • 11 Ibid, p. 207 (p. 96). The term shōchō (“symbol”) is Akutagawa’s (Iwanami, p. 96); it indicates tha (...)

9Sometimes, this structure will indeed take the form of a reversal, as in the case of Gramigna’s Mistress. Another example of a narrative reversal is Akutagawa Ryūnosuke’s famous Mikan (The Tangerines).10 In this story, the narrator finds himself on a suburban train in a very depressed mood. He sees a deeply repulsive peasant girl boarding the train; her looks disgust him; her clumsy efforts to open the window annoy him and reinforce his feeling of discomfort in the face of the “absurdity, the vulgarity, and the monotony of the human condition”, of which the time and the place are for him the very symbol.11 Suddenly the girl succeeds in opening the window when they are in the middle of a tunnel, and the narrator chokes on the soot that pours in. Just as he is about to scold her, she throws some tangerines, which she had hidden in her blouse, to her young brothers who have come to see her off.

  • 12 Kojima, p. 211 (p. 99).

10This is the Wendepunkt of the short story, which brings about the complete reversal: from that moment, the narrator understands the girl’s behaviour, and is saddened by her lot. All the symbols scattered through the text are reversed: the “warm sunny color” of the tangerines is contrasted with the gloominess, paroxystically described at the beginning. The end of the story presents the same terms as at the beginning, but inverts the signs: “I was able to forget some of my boredom and my indescribable exhaustion, and also the absurdity, the vulgarity, and the monotony of the human condition”.12 The antithesis here operates on the unfolding of the narrative, in accordance with Tieck’s definition.

  • 13 Henry James, The Complete Tales of Henry James, ed. by Leon Edel, 12 vols (New York: Rupert Hart D (...)
  • 14 Edel, p. 401 (the emphasis is James’s).

11However, usually antithetic tension is established between textual elements that have nothing to do with the unfolding of the narrative. Neither Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde nor The Gift of the Magi offer a narrative reversal. Similarly, in a story like Henry James’s The Beast in the Jungle, it is the central concept, the “event” which is reversed in the antithesis.13 Because John Marcher, the hero, has spent his whole life waiting for the extraordinary event for which he thinks he was born, nothing happens. A woman, May Bartram, spends years beside him as he keeps his eyes riveted on the “beast of destiny” that never appears. All she will have been in her life is the companion of that waiting. After her death, he suddenly realises that the destiny for which he has waited so long may have been to love her; blinded by his expectation of an exceptional happening, he failed where an ordinary man would have succeeded. A statement at the end of the short story is typical of the genre: “[…] he had been the man of this time, the man, to whom nothing on earth was to have happened. That was the rare stroke — that was his visitation”.14 Ultimately, Marcher’s life had been exceptional in a negative sense. The antithesis is essential but it does not affect the unfolding of the narrative nor does it play any part in the chain of actions: it simply places two opposite possibilities side by side.

  • 15 Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, Exotic Japanese Stories: The Beautiful and the Grotesque, trans. by Takashi K (...)

12The antithesis can also be the abstract law of a paradigm. A good example of this can be found in another important story of Akutagawa’s, Kareno shō (Withered Fields), which again demonstrates the primacy of the structure over character in the short story.15 In the story, Bashō — the great seventeenth-century poet — is dying. He is surrounded by his faithful disciples, all of whom are well-known figures in Japan that are considered to be great men in their own right. The narrative is quite simple: Akutagawa evokes the setting and the gloomy day, and then he describes each disciple, one after the other, as he goes to pay his last respects to his dying master. It is a story that most Japanese readers would know well. Akutagawa, however, describes something nobody in the Japanese tradition ever imagined when telling the story before. Traditionally the story was used to illustrate the dedication and love of the disciples for their master. However, in Akutagawa’s version, the disciples react completely unexpectedly: negatively, selfishly. Each is discovering himself engrossed in his own preoccupations far from the solemn grief everyone thought he was experiencing.

  • 16 Edwige de Chavannes-Fujimoto is a good example. Her claim that Withered Fields is a profound psych (...)

13What is interesting in Withered Fields is that it is the type of text that is considered complex. Critics (both Japanese and western) often cite it as bearing the echo of the contradictory sentiments that disturbed Akutagawa about the death of his own master, Natsume Sōseki. The unexpected scene is supposed to be a “revelation” for each of them, and for the readers as well. But close analysis shows things to be quite different, and particularly interesting because the matter is treated in a way that is typical of the classic short story.16

  • 17 Kojima, p. 302 (p. 210).

14The essential point is that the various “revelations” which occur to the characters are in fact homologous. Certainly, we see the deep interior reactions of each of them to the death of their venerated master. But these reactions always follow an identical law: in each case they radically contradict what was anticipated. The disciples’ mourning of their master’s death is proverbial: we expect an account of terrible grief. But each of them acknowledges with surprise its absence. There is certainly “revelation”, but this comes in the fact that every detail of their grief is the exact opposite of what they had expected. Kikaku experiences total indifference, augmented by physical disgust for the appearance of the dying man; Kyorai recognises that his constant activity on behalf of his master’s well-being has mostly resulted in his own immense self-satisfaction; Shikō is only concerned about the funeral peroration which he must compose, and the material fall-out from his master’s death; Inenbo only sees in another’s death the respite which he will experience from his own inevitable demise; and finally Jōsō, “that old and faithful Zen devotee” is filled with a profound serenity — the “unlimited sadness and unlimited comfort” of being freed from the chain with which his spirit had been weighed down by Bashō’s crushing personality.17

  • 18 Chavannes-Fujimoto (1979), moreover, insists on the importance of the contrasts in this text: she (...)
  • 19 Kojima, p. 296 (p. 205).

15By taking their various attitudes to be the manifold reactions of one man (Akutagawa) on the death of his own master, critics have reverted to the idea of diversity, and therefore of a certain psychological richness. But if we forget about the author (and this text in no way claims to be autobiographical) we immediately become aware of the “narrative saturation”. Drawn together within the circle of disciples, these unexpected, diverse feelings basically make us feel that we are faced with all possible egotistical reactions. What the text provides, then, is not a series of differentiated nuanced portraits but in turn two successive concepts: first, what the critic Edwige de Chavannes-Fujimoto calls the “puppet”, in which the initial characterization is a caricature, a symbol of a conventional attitude; then, through the intermediary of a reversal that is identical in each case, the opposite attitude, which is equally a caricature. The text does not follow the meanderings of a soul, but creates two paradigms linked one to the other through antithesis.18 One cannot transform mechanical symmetry into complexity by simply noting — as Akutagawa does when speaking of Kyorai — that “satisfaction and remorse, like the shade and sunlight, bore with them a destiny that had entangled him”.19

16Even Jōsō, who benefits from somewhat special treatment, is nevertheless reduced to a caricature. He is the only disciple whose feelings reveal a certain ambivalence: a sad and voluptuous joy. Pains are taken to characterise him as the “most faithful” of the disciples, excessively devoted. Yet, this embryo of ambiguity cannot hide the tension between devotion and real relief at the death of another, with that “other” being dearest to his heart. What we have is a pure and total reversal of the traditional version of the death of Bashō. The contrast as a quasi-abstract “law” of the text is underlined by the reminder sub fine of this traditional version:

  • 20 Ibid, pp. 302-03 (p. 211). Critics frequently insist on the presence of contrasts in the short sto (...)

In such a way it happened that Bashō-an Matsuō Tosei, the greatest haiku master, unprecedented in ancient and modern times, enveloped in ‘the boundless grief’ of followers who mourned his passing, suddenly began his journey towards death.20

17Akutagawa returns ironically to the vulgate: the “boundless grief” is exactly what has been deconstructed by irony.

Secondary tensions

  • 21 Anton Chekhov, Late-Blooming Flowers and Other Stories, trans. by I. C. Chertok and Jean Gardner ( (...)

18Antithesis is not a stylistic device but an organising principle in the classic short story. And so it is not surprising to find it at all levels of the text, where it creates microstructures and establishes secondary oppositions that contribute to the coherence and stability of the text as a whole. Anton Chekhov’s Volodya Bol’shoi i Volodya Malen’kii (Big Volodya and Little Volodya) provides a good example of what I call “secondary tensions”.21 A young woman, Sophia, has just married a colonel much older than herself (Big Volodya) because the man she loves (Little Volodya) does not return her affections. The essential antithetic tension in this story is the clash between Sophia’s demonstrative gaiety at the beginning (her “discovery” that she really loves her husband and her happiness in being married) and her despair at the end, when her life seems completely ruined. This is a common theme for Chekhov: the impossibility of leading a pure and joyous life.

  • 22 The beginning of a burlesque song of the time.
  • 23 “[Big Volodya] extolled [Little Volodya], blessing his future just as Derzhavin did for Pushkin”. (...)

19Along with this basic tension, a series of others are established: the most important is the opposition between Sophia’s exaggerated expressions of deep feelings and the void into which they fall; her husband attaches absolutely no importance to her desire for spiritual purification. She then turns to Little Volodya, who becomes her lover immediately after her marriage, and asks him for guidance — just one word that will help her find a way out of the dreary misery of her life. All he does is to repeat like a refrain, throughout the text, the onomatopoeic “tararaboumbia”.22 Similarly it is enough for Chekhov to compare the relationship that binds the two Volodyas with that which bound the great poets Gavrila Derzhavin and Alexander Pushkin in order to illuminate the antinomy between the two worlds in which these relationships exist.23

  • 24 Goethe’s Novelle is profoundly structured by the antithesis “strength/gentleness”, summarised in t (...)

20Finally, in keeping with these three oppositions, another contrast plays an important role in our perception of the principal theme: the opposition between Sophia’s life of pleasure, and that of her friend Olga, who has just entered a convent as a novice. The contrivance here is obvious: bringing an adulteress and a nun together creates a strong oxymoronic tension, and allows Chekhov to treat the theme very economically. At the end of the story, Sophia visits Olga in the convent almost every day, and her complaints to her pious friend about her all too worldly sufferings totally discredit her character. The global tension gives the story structure while the secondary tensions energise the details: by contrasting Sophia’s life with that of Olga’s, Chekhov intensifies its emptiness. The recurring use of contrast creates the concrete impression of an abyss, a dead-end situation. Not only does Chekhov show a world closed in on itself, dreary and desperate, but, by presenting its absolute contrast, he “locks in” this world, while making it immediately tangible to the reader.24

  • 25 V. B. Kataev, Proza Chekhova: problemy interpretatsii (Moscow: Izd-vo Moskovskogo universiteta, 19 (...)
  • 26 In Pripadok/The Crisis (Nauka, VII, pp. 199-221); Taper/The Pianist (Nauka, IV, pp. 204-08); and Z (...)
  • 27 Kataev (2002), p. 12.
  • 28 The few examples of Chekhov’s stories that are free from oxymoronic tension tend to come later in (...)

21Vladimir Kataev has shown that the matrix of all Chekhov’s work is a series of short stories from his youth that he calls “the short stories of discovery”.25 In these stories, the hero receives at full force the shock of an apparently ordinary event that transforms his entire concept of the world. An evening spent with friends in a street of brothels, an insult inflicted by some merchants on a student whom they paid to play the piano at their wedding, a tooth extraction;26 these are the “trifling occurrences”, but for the hero they provide the occasion for reshaping his whole frame of thought, which he had thought to be stable and definitive.27 In a great many of these stories, the basic antithesis is emphasised by the contrast of two expressions: kazalos’/okazalos’ (“it seemed that/it appeared clearly that”). Chekhov always constructs a diptych. He develops first the character’s false concept of the world (kazalos’), before showing how he becomes aware of its artifice. Only then will he develop the new order of the world as the hero now conceives it (okazalos’): confused, complex and in conflict. The oxymoronic tension is thus established and proclaimed, because Chekhov is well aware of the formidable efficacy it gives to his denunciation. We shall see that Chekhov is one of the very few authors of the period who did write stories free from oxymoronic tension, but these texts only constitute a handful.28 Although he is rightly celebrated for the nuances in his plays, when turning to the short story, Chekhov — like Henry James — uses the capacity of the form to the full. He builds oxymoronic tensions out of paroxystic characters, because this is a particularly efficient way to build a story and to create emotion.

Editing antithetic tension: Maupassant and James

  • 29 Guy de Maupassant, Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant, trans. by Artine Artinian (Garden (...)
  • 30 There is a summary of this discussion in Pléiade, I, p. 1448.

22By way of conclusion to this chapter, I will examine two examples where writers have reworked material organised by antithetic tension. The first is that of Guy de Maupassant, who reused in the story La Confession (The Confession) the material he had previously included in the chronicle Un drame vrai (A True Story).29 In A True Story, the earlier of the two texts, Maupassant declared that the facts he was about to relate were impossible to use in a story, because they were too unlikely, even though they were in fact true. He developed a discussion with the critic Albert Wolff in which he maintained that this material would be fit only for popular novelists.30 In the latter story, Maupassant removed what he thought to be the most far-fetched details of the story, but he left the deeply improbable antithesis that lay at its core.

23In A True Story, the following are the “true” but unlikely facts: a man has killed his brother on the eve of the latter’s marriage to a young woman whom they both love. The crime is not discovered, and he marries the girl. They have three daughters, one of whom marries the son of the magistrate who had been in charge of the murder investigation. During the wedding feast, the new father-in-law sings a song that the judge recognises, but without remembering the details. Lengthy research enables him to find the song in the midst of the papers on this very old case: it was copied on the torn page that had served to load the gun. He finds the book buried among the father-in-law’s possessions, and has him condemned.

24The Confession is based on a similar idea of an unsolved murder finally being resolved. It tells the story of two sisters: the youngest, Marguerite, devotes her life to her elder sister Suzanne after Suzanne’s fiancé disappeared on the eve of her wedding. Marguerite was obstinate in her refusal to marry, and on her death-bed she reveals the reason: she had killed the fiancé forty years earlier out of jealousy. In this story, Maupassant removed all the fantastic vicissitudes of A True Story and substituted the younger sister’s remorse for the judge’s random finding. She had spent her entire life expiating her crime, and she herself confesses it; there are no clues miraculously discovered in unusual circumstances. The closeness of the two sisters increases the pathos of the situation, and an entire life spent in guilt and atonement collides with the intensity of the jealousy and horror of a confession. The behavioural patterns are what interest Maupassant in the latter story rather than police intrigue.

  • 31 Maupassant writes a long passage in which Suzanne, before she grants her sister forgiveness, plung (...)
  • 32 It is in this light that I think we must consider Bakhtin’s analysis of the Schwellensituation, as (...)

25However, the author retained the first story’s eminently rhetorical structure in its entirety. Although his intention was not to write a “popular” novel, he made the details incandescent and let them clash violently with each other within the framework of the short story. He substituted one antithetic tension for another, but without renouncing it, because it is the antithesis that gives the text its compactness and effectiveness. The crime is just as outrageous (to kill a sister’s fiancé out of jealousy is on the same scale as killing a brother in order to steal his fiancée).31 In short, Maupassant did not consider the somewhat forced structure to be contrived; he thought the problem lay in the far-fetched details. For a realist short story writer, improbability depends on the circumstances and not on the organization of the material, no matter how rhetorical. This seems particularly surprising given the theory that, as we saw in the last chapter, short stories must be written simply about simple things.32

  • 33 This is from James’s notebook entry of 31 October 1895. Henry James, The Notebooks of Henry James, (...)
  • 34 We have three stages of the text: the “germ” — in the form of a short story (Notebooks, pp. 225-29 (...)
  • 35 Ibid, p. 388.

26The second example is of a different order: it is a question of the transformation from a short story into a novel. The initial sketch or “germ” of James’s The Ambassadors, defined in The Notebooks as a short story, was reworked from that shorter version into the novel we know.33 In this process, an essential element of the concept disappeared.34 In both the short story and the novel, we see a New England intellectual, Lewis Lambert Strether, delegated by his rich patroness to go to Paris to see her son, Chad Newsome. Mrs Newsome fears that Chad is leading a life of depravity in the French capital, and there are rumours in his hometown of Woollett, Massachusetts that he is living with a “horrible woman”.35 Strether is sent to investigate and deal with the problem.

  • 36 This conversation is an indirect response to the situation Strether finds in Paris, and an indicat (...)
  • 37 Notebooks, p. 256 (James’s emphasis).
  • 38 Ibid.
  • 39 Ibid, p. 228. By not bringing him back, Strether puts an end to his own engagement to be married t (...)

27The story is built around a central scene in which Strether urges one of the young people he befriends in Paris, to live, and not to waste his life.36 When he conceived of the work as a short story, it was crucial for James to diametrically oppose this attitude with another. It was necessary that Strether should have behaved at a different moment in exactly the opposite way: “I am supposing him […] to have ‘illustrated’, as I say, in the past, by his issue from some other situation, the opposite conditions”.37 The first element of the “little drama” that James imagined for his short story was that “[Strether] has sacrificed some one, some friend, some son, some younger brother, to his failure to feel, to understand, all that his new experience causes to come home to him in a wave of reaction, of cumpunction”.38 At the end of the story, Strether was to sacrifice himself to have Chad “live”.39

  • 40 As stressed by the editors (ibid, p. 371).
  • 41 Ibid, p. 227.
  • 42 Ibid, p. 257.
  • 43 Ibid, p. 227. The word “revolution” is used three times (twice on p. 227 and once on p. 228).
  • 44 We observe the same kind of elaboration and renunciation of antithetic tension in the work which l (...)

28However James completely abandoned this crucial element of the short story when he reworked it as a novel.40 The upheaval experienced by Strether in the short story was sudden;41 as James puts it he was to “accept on the spot, with a volte-face, a wholly different inspiration”.42 In the novel, instead of being the result of an incident, the change in Strether comes about slowly, and his loyalty to Mrs Newsome and New England values are never lost. At the end of the novel, although Strether’s interior world is by now completely separated from that of his rich patroness, he returns to America without marrying his European love interest, filled with a mixture of emotions. Once James conceives of the work as a novel, the subject is no longer “the revolution that takes place in the poor man”,43 but a slow transformation, the creation of complexity, of shades and half-truths (such as the “virtue” of Chad’s attachment to Mme de Vionnet). In other words, the novel has expelled the antithetic structure in which Strether would have been seen to sacrifice someone close to him, and, for this reason, to sacrifice himself to save someone else. The oxymoronic tension is necessary for the short story but not for the novel.44

Notes

1 See Irving Saposnik’s insistence on the absolute necessity not to separate the two sides of the character: “[the story] has become the victim of its own success, allowing subsequent generations to […] see Jekyll or Hyde where one should see Jekyll-Hyde”. Saposnik goes on to show the elaborate structure of the text. Irving S. Saposnik, Robert Louis Stevenson (New York: Twayne, 1974), p. 88.

2 A much-maligned author, O. Henry (William Sydney Porter) is nevertheless regularly rehabilitated by critics. In Literatura (1927), Boris Eikhenbaum describes The Gift of the Magi as the archetype of all O. Henry’s short stories; see Charles E. May, The New Short Story Theories (Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1994), pp. 81-88. The Gift of the Magi can be read via Project Gutenberg: http://www.auburn.edu/~vestmon/Gift_of_the_Magi.html (accessed 22/10/13).

3 Saposnik (1974) says the same thing about Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Struck by the number of interpretations of Hyde’s character, he remarks that nevertheless they are all metaphorical: Hyde is “usually described in metaphors because essentially that is what he is: a metaphor of uncontrolled appetites, an amoral abstraction. […] Purposely left vague, he is best described as Jekyll-deformed, dwarfish, stumping, ape-like — a frightening parody of a man unable to exist on the surface” (p. 101).

4 “[...] it seemed [to Tallow Candle] he couldn’t wait to take his bride home on the back of his bay mule. But one fine day Peppa told him: ‘Never mind your mule, because I don’t want to get married.’ Imagine the commotion! The old woman tore her hair, and Tallow Candle remained openmouthed”. Giovanni Verga, The She-Wolf and Other Stories, trans. by Giovanni Cecchetti (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), p. 90. For the original Italian, see Giovanni Verga, Tutte le Novelle, ed. by Carla Ricciardi, 2 vols (Milan: Mondadori, 1983), I, pp. 191-99.

5 Many short stories include this antithesis in their title: Miguel de Cervantes’ The Illustrious Kitchenmaid and The English Spanish Lady; François Le Métel de Boisrobert’s Happy Despair; Alexander Pushkin’s The Noble Peasant; Fyodor Dostoevsky’s An Honest Robber and A Little Hero; Verga’s The Epic of Two Pennies and Donna Santa’s Sin; and Chekhov’s Big Volodya and Little Volodya and The Fat and the Thin, to name but some examples.

6 For Tieck, the Novelle is defined by its Wendepunkt (“wird sie immer jenen sonderbaren auffallenden Wendepunkt haben”). Ludwig Tieck, Ludwig Tieck’s Schriften (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1828-55), XI, pp. lxxxv-lxxxvi. For a discussion of this and other German classic theories of the short story, see John M. Ellis, Narration in the German Novelle: Theory and Interpretation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974), Donald LoCicero, Novellentheorie: The Practicality of the Theoretical (The Hague: Mouton, 1970), and more recently Garrido Miñambres, Die Novelle im Spiegel der Gattungstheorie (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann: 2008).

7 Charles E. May discussed Tieck’s theory in “The Unique Effect of the Short Story: A Reconsideration and an Example”, Studies in Short Fiction, 13 (1976), 289-97. Valerie Shaw sees it as one of the possible, simple structures: “This is why stories like this one conform to an extremely simple narrative structure which divides into two discrete and unequal parts: an horrific situation is evoked and exploited for utmost effect, then totally reversed, often in a brief sentence or two”. Valerie Shaw, The Short Story: A Critical Introduction (London: Longman, 1983), p. 50. See also Richard Fusco, who sees “fifteen differing plot structures and variations in [...] nineteenth century stories”, in Maupassant and the American Short Story: The Influence of Form at the Turn of the Century (University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1994), pp. 4-7. Fusco develops at length the idea of the “contrast story”, in which he sees an influence of Maupassant on James (pp. 188-204). Six of the seven of the structures developed in Fusco’s book are clearly based on antitheses (“Linear story”, “Ironic coda”, “Surprise-inversion”, “Loop”, “Contrast”, and finally “Descending helical”, which concerns fantastic stories and stories of madness, where antithesis between the two worlds is central).

8 “While symmetrical design of some sort will frequently be present in a short story, it is patently not a property that belongs to that form in any distinctive indispensable way […] in many good stories symmetry is not present at all”. Ian Reid, The Short Story (London: Methuen, 1977), p. 59. See also Per Winther who, following the work of John Gerlach, recognises the existence of the “perception of an antithetical pattern” as being at the source of the sense of closure that accompanies “the sense of natural termination”. Per Winther, “Closure and Preclosure as Narrative Grid in Short Story Analysis”, in The Art of Brevity: Excursions in Short Fiction Theory and Analysis, ed. by Per Winther, Jakob Lothe, and Hans H. Skei (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2004), pp. 57-69 (p. 60).

9 This is so true that it was the substance of much criticism at the end of the twentieth century, and led to this idea being considered useless to define the genre (writers would hasten to contradict the critics by composing short stories that did not correspond to the specified criteria); hence the “essential modesty” of contemporary criticism, especially among the French and Anglophones. See for example T. O. Beachcroft, The Modest Art: A Survey of the Short Story in English (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968).

10 Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, Japanese Short Stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, ed. by Kojima Takashi (New York: Liveright, 1961), pp. 206-11 (henceforth Kojima). The Japanese text of this story can be found in Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, Akutagawa Ryūnosuke zenshū, 19 vols (Tōkyō: Iwanami Shoten, 1954-1955), IV, pp. 95-99 (hereafter Iwanami). Hereafter, the references are given first to the translation, then to the original text.

11 Ibid, p. 207 (p. 96). The term shōchō (“symbol”) is Akutagawa’s (Iwanami, p. 96); it indicates that we are reaching the limit, the hardening of the paroxystically described narrative elements into abstract entities.

12 Kojima, p. 211 (p. 99).

13 Henry James, The Complete Tales of Henry James, ed. by Leon Edel, 12 vols (New York: Rupert Hart Davis, 1960), XI, pp. 351-402 (hereafter Edel). On this story, see also Arthur A. Brown, “Death and the Reader: James’s ‘The Beast in The Jungle’”, in Postmodern Approaches to the Short Story, ed. by Farhat Iftekharrudin, Joseph Boyden, Joseph Longo and Mary Rohrberger (Westport, CN: Praeger, 2003), pp. 39-50.

14 Edel, p. 401 (the emphasis is James’s).

15 Akutagawa Ryūnosuke, Exotic Japanese Stories: The Beautiful and the Grotesque, trans. by Takashi Kojima and John McVittie (Liveright: New York, 1964), pp. 291-303 (hereafter Kojima). The Japanese text can be found in Iwanami, II, pp. 201-11.

16 Edwige de Chavannes-Fujimoto is a good example. Her claim that Withered Fields is a profound psychological study does not prevent her from recognising that there is a sort of mechanical law in this text, through which assumed attitudes are automatically transformed into their contrary. She notes that the beginning of the story lacks psychological complexity and that all the descriptive traits (the costume or bearing of the characters) are caricatures, the equivalent of the attributes given to “puppets”. As the text unfolds, she argues that Bashō’s death reveals each disciple’s true depth. According to Chavannes-Fujimoto, the story provides a true study of the human heart, because Akutagawa was “distributing” the different emotions of his heart among the various characters. Edwige de Chavannes-Fujimoto, Akutagawa Ryūnosuke. L’organisation de la phrase et du récit (Paris: Inalco, 1979), pp. 145-46.

17 Kojima, p. 302 (p. 210).

18 Chavannes-Fujimoto (1979), moreover, insists on the importance of the contrasts in this text: she recognises a series of “reversals”, and “antitheses”, and concludes: “a simple click is enough to make the other face appear” (p. 146).

19 Kojima, p. 296 (p. 205).

20 Ibid, pp. 302-03 (p. 211). Critics frequently insist on the presence of contrasts in the short story, but never, to my knowledge, see it as a profound part of the structure. In addition to the work of Tieck, the contemporary writer Ōe Kenzaburō argues that the density of writing found in good short stories is the result of tension. However, to his mind, this tension might be found not in the text, but within the author. He gives as examples the writers of Meiji and himself. He cites the tension between his persona as a naïve young man of provincial Shikoku and his reality as the celebrated darling of Tōkyō’s literary elite. As for the Meiji writers, they were torn between western and Japanese culture, and this provided the basic oxymoronic tension in most of their short stories — Mori Ōgai’s Maihime (The Dancing Girl) or Fushinchū (Under Construction), for example. One should remark that this does not allow for Ōgai’s Sanshō Dayū (Sanshō the Steward), or Kōda Rōhan’s Gojū no tō (The Pagoda) — yet these texts are nevertheless organised by a very strong oxymoronic tension. Ōe goes on to criticise the younger generation, who refuse to subject themselves to this kind of tension and adapt completely to the American subculture: which is why, according to Ōe, there are no great short stories being written today. Ōe Kenzaburō, “Sakka no soba kara”, Bungakkai, 41-49 (September 1987), 180-83.

21 Anton Chekhov, Late-Blooming Flowers and Other Stories, trans. by I. C. Chertok and Jean Gardner (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), pp. 127-46 (hereafter Chertok). The Russian text of this story can be found in Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem, 30 vols (Moscow: Nauka, 1974-1983), VIII, pp. 214-25 (hereafter Nauka).

22 The beginning of a burlesque song of the time.

23 “[Big Volodya] extolled [Little Volodya], blessing his future just as Derzhavin did for Pushkin”. Chertok, pp. 130-31 (Nauka, p. 216). This line comes immediately after a remark that Little Volodya has always had women in his student room. The very lively tradition of the heroic-comic in the preceding century in Russia made readers even more aware of this genre of proceedings: Russian readers are trained by this tradition to detect irony.

24 Goethe’s Novelle is profoundly structured by the antithesis “strength/gentleness”, summarised in the final image: “If it is at all possible to think that, on the features of such a fierce creature, the forest king, the despot of the animal realm, an expression of friendliness, of grateful satisfaction, could be discerned, then here it was so”. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Great Writings of Goethe, ed. by S. Spender, trans. by Christopher Middleton (New York: New American Library, 1958), p. 260. As is often the case, we have here an entire series of secondary tensions: for example, between the princess’s vow, out of curiosity, to see the animals on her return, and her anguish at the encounter.

25 V. B. Kataev, Proza Chekhova: problemy interpretatsii (Moscow: Izd-vo Moskovskogo universiteta, 1979). For a partial translation see Vladimir Kataev, If Only We Could Know: An Interpretation of Chekhov, trans. by Harvey Pitcher (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2002), pp. 11-19.

26 In Pripadok/The Crisis (Nauka, VII, pp. 199-221); Taper/The Pianist (Nauka, IV, pp. 204-08); and Znakomyi muzhchina/An Aquaintance of Hers (Nauka, V, pp. 116-19).

27 Kataev (2002), p. 12.

28 The few examples of Chekhov’s stories that are free from oxymoronic tension tend to come later in his career, for example The Bishop (1902) and The Betrothed (1903). Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, Anton Chekhov’s Short Stories, ed. by Ralph E. Matlaw (New York: Norton, 1979), pp. 235-63.

29 Guy de Maupassant, Complete Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant, trans. by Artine Artinian (Garden City, NY: Hanover House, 1955), pp. 371-74 (The Confession) and pp. 491-94 (A True Story). For the original French (henceforth cited as Pléiade), see Guy de Maupassant, Contes et nouvelles, ed. by Louis Forestier, 2 vols (Paris: Gallimard, collection La Pléiade, 1974), I, pp. 1035-39 (La Confession) and I, pp. 495-97 (Un Drame vrai).

30 There is a summary of this discussion in Pléiade, I, p. 1448.

31 Maupassant writes a long passage in which Suzanne, before she grants her sister forgiveness, plunges into a vivid — paroxystic — vision of the life she would have led with the man she loved.

32 It is in this light that I think we must consider Bakhtin’s analysis of the Schwellensituation, as developed in Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, ed. and trans. by Caryl Emerson (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1984). The classic short story always creates an antithetic tension, which uncouples the elements at their most extreme, contrasts and “distinguishes” them. The “threshold-situation” will then naturally be found there, as it is supremely that of distinctions and reversals, whether narrative or thematic, psychological or symbolic. Because the threshold-situation implies a certain type of mental attitude found in the short story, it often happens that the two are associated.

33 This is from James’s notebook entry of 31 October 1895. Henry James, The Notebooks of Henry James, ed. by F. O. Matthiessen and Kenneth B. Murdock (New York: Oxford University Press, 1947), pp. 225-29 (hereafter Notebooks).

34 We have three stages of the text: the “germ” — in the form of a short story (Notebooks, pp. 225-29); the project sent to the editor of the review for approval — already in the form of a novel (pp. 370-415); and the final stage of the novel.

35 Ibid, p. 388.

36 This conversation is an indirect response to the situation Strether finds in Paris, and an indication of the way he will behave with Chad himself.

37 Notebooks, p. 256 (James’s emphasis).

38 Ibid.

39 Ibid, p. 228. By not bringing him back, Strether puts an end to his own engagement to be married to Chad’s mother, a marriage that represents for him “rest and security”.

40 As stressed by the editors (ibid, p. 371).

41 Ibid, p. 227.

42 Ibid, p. 257.

43 Ibid, p. 227. The word “revolution” is used three times (twice on p. 227 and once on p. 228).

44 We observe the same kind of elaboration and renunciation of antithetic tension in the work which led Verga from his Padron N’toni, bozzetto marinaresco (A Sketch of Sailors) to the novel I Malavoglia (The House by the Medlar Tree). Verga wrote to his fellow writer, Luigi Capuana (14 March 1874), that in the short story he wanted to establish a striking contrast between the serenity and freshness of his country hero and the life of the city. The novel, however, abandons this tension as well as the entire mythical and myth-making vision that Verga’s other short stories of the same theme carried, for example, Fantasticheria (Caprice). See Guido Baldi, L’artificio della regressione: tecnica narrativa e ideologia nel Verga verista (Naples: Liguori, 1980).