Short Story Cycles


While the story cycle form has been popular for centuries, as seen in works like The Decameron and One Thousand and One Arabian Nights, it is especially important to modern Anglo-American literature. Twentieth century short story composites by James Joyce, Sherwood Anderson, and Ernest Hemingway represent high points not simply for the genre, but also for modernist literature. Despite the centrality of these texts to the genre and to the period, the connection between time and form has often gone unexplored. Indeed, short story composite theory is still a bit unfocused, defining itself in reaction to
the genres with which the composite is often confused, especially the novel. While it is important to disentangle the short story composite from these other genres, paradoxically, it is counterproductive, even harmful, to do so without acknowledging the ways in which they do undeniably overlap. Particularly, a refusal to draw comparisons between modernist novels and short story composites represents a missed opportunity to consider the field of modernist narrative holistically. Clearly, a more nuanced articulation of short story composite theory is necessary. It would provide clarity for composite works and help articulate the structural properties of composite narrative more generally, a concern central to understanding modernist narrative practice. Through examining works that range from high to low to popular, I argue that the short story composite encompasses a variety of forms and modes of writing but displays similar central characteristics organic to the period. The first two chapters
work to situate the debate within various dovetailing contexts, including the history of the short story genre in the nineteenth century as well as the twentieth century shift of literary and critical production to the academy. Another chapter will also identify the concept of ‘textual autonomy’ as an especially problematic aspect of composite narrative theory, determined as it is by those contexts that shaped the genre and its criticism. Finally, a final chapter interrogates the relationship between modernity and narrative through the lens of WWI fiction. Writers discussed include Joyce and George Moore; Anderson and Hemingway; Gertrude Stein and Thornton Wilder; Sarah Orne Jewett, John Steinbeck, and
Willa Cather; and John Dos Passos, William March, and e. e. cummings.

from: The short story composite and the roots of modernist narrative by
Matheny, Kathryn Grace. 2012. The University of Alabama.


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