The Classic Short Story, 1870-1925: Theory of a Genre

The Classic Short Story, 1870-1925: Theory of a Genre Florence Goyet
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Florence Goyet's book is remarkable as much for the scope of its corpus (more than a thousand stories in five languages) as for the quality of its analysis. The author defines the short story first by examining its narrative strategies, then by focusing on its print circulation and finally on how the text shapes its own reading. Goyet refines the distinctive features ordinarily accepted by the critics; she then shows that the readers of short stories are always different from the characters depicted, through the specific periodicals in which they are published. This is why the "peasant” stories of Maupassant appear in high society periodicals, and why the "European” stories of Henry James are published in the US, whereas his "American” ones are accepted in English magazines. The primary aim of the genre is to emphasize the picturesqueness of subjects which are a familiar sight for the readers yet in reality strange, because the characters live in another world altogether. Close analysis of this context in which the stories are published leads Goyet to define the genre as "monological” — being at odds with polyphony — a thesis which is confirmed in her subsequent analyses of the stylistic procedures that discredit the characters. Thus, this book provides us with a new understanding of the short text, which is all the more convincing in that it is always rigorously supported by probing theoretical discussions and by precise textual analyses.
— Denis Pernot, Revue d'Histoire Littéraire de la France, XCV/1 (Janvier-Fevrier 1995), p. 127

I enjoyed reading Florence Goyet's book. I recommend it to you for its breadth and insight.
— Charles E. May, 29 April 2014, review available on Prof. May's blog

The ability to construct a nuanced narrative or complex character in the constrained form of the short story has sometimes been seen as the ultimate test of an author's creativity. Yet during the time when the short story was at its most popularthe late nineteenth and early twentieth centurieseven the greatest writers followed strict generic conventions that were far from subtle.

This expanded and updated translation of Florence Goyet's influential La Nouvelle, 1870-1925: Description d'un genre à son apogée (Paris, 1993) is the only study to focus exclusively on this classic period across different continents. Ranging through French, English, Italian, Russian and Japanese writingparticularly the stories of Guy de Maupassant, Henry James, Giovanni Verga, Anton Chekhov and Akutagawa RyunosukeGoyet shows that these authors were able to create brilliant and successful short stories using the very simple 'tools of brevity' of that period.

In this challenging and far-reaching study, Goyet looks at classic short stories in the context in which they were read at the time: cheap newspapers and higher-end periodicals. She demonstrates that, despite the apparent intention of these stories to question bourgeois ideals, they mostly affirmed the prejudices of their readers. In doing so, her book forces us to re-think our preconceptions about this 'forgotten' genre.

Florence Goyet's book is also available on the website, where we are running a Thanks for Ungluing campaign. Please join this initiative to make high-quality research free to read for all. Click here to contribute!

The Classic Short Story, 1870-1925: Theory of a Genre
Florence Goyet | January 2014
210 | 6.14" x 9.21" (234 x 156 mm)
ISBN Paperback: 9781909254756
ISBN Hardback: 9781909254763
ISBN Digital (PDF): 9781909254770
ISBN Digital ebook (epub): 9781909254787
ISBN Digital ebook (mobi): 9781909254794
ISBN Digital (XML): 9781783744206
DOI: 10.11647/OBP.0039
BIC subject codes: FYB (Short stories), DSK (Literary studies: fiction, novelists and prose writers); BISAC: FIC029000 (FICTION / Short Stories (single author)), EDU029050 (EDUCATION / Teaching Methods & Materials / Arts & Humanities); OCLC Number: 960810339.

You may also be interested in:


1. Paroxystic Characterisation
2. Antithetic Structure
3. Ending with a Twist
4. The Tools of Brevity
5. Conclusion to Part I

6. Exoticism in the Classic Short Story
7. Short Stories and the Travelogue

8. A Foreign World
9. Dialogue and Character Discreditation
10. The Narrator, the Reflector and the Reader
11. Distance and Emotion
12. Conclusion to Part III: Are Dostoevsky¡¯s Short Stories Polyphonic?
Epilogue: Beyond the Classic Short Story


Florence Goyet is Professor of General and Comparative Literature within the Faculty of Humanities and Arts at Stendhal University, France. Her research focuses on polyphony and the political role of literature, and her comparative approach encompasses modern French, English, Russian, Italian, Japanese and German literatures, as well as mediaeval French, German and Japanese, Greek and Latin literatures. Her book Penser sans concepts (Paris, 2006) shows that telling stories can be the means of political and ethical innovation. Her current research looks at the concept of  'epic work', in which the structure of an epic text can create new and surprising meaning.