Short Story Cycles

The short story cycle: Broadening the perspective

Key examples of short story cycles in English literature and attempts to establish a literary tradition for this genre.

The article serves as an intro to a special issue of the journal, Short Stories in Theory & Practice. It discusses the genre of the short story cycle, and explores various terms used to describe this genre, such as “story suite,” “short story cycle,” “short story sequence,” and “composite novel.” The author highlights the debate between focusing on the author’s intentions and the formal characteristics of the cycle. They also discuss the tension between unity and diversity, coherence and fragmentation, and closure and openness within short story cycles. The article mentions key examples of short story cycles in English literature and explores attempts to establish a literary tradition for this genre. Additionally, it examines Italian approaches to integrated short story collections, using the term “macrotext” to describe the structure and coherence of these works.

It highlights that Italian critics developed their approach to integrated collections separately from the Anglo-American tradition, while French and French-Canadian scholars are more aware of the Anglo-American approaches. The francophone tradition does not consider the recueil (collection) as a separate genre but rather as a publishing format influenced by its contents. The article discusses the tension between the “logic of totalization” and “the logic of fragmentation” in the story collection and identifies formal and reader-oriented approaches to analyzing collections.

Two reading processes are identified: “totalization” and “cross-linking,” which a collection may invite and a reader can activate based on textual elements and readerly frames of expectation. The focus on the reader’s interpretation challenges the notion of inherent unity in a short story cycle and likens the collection to a hypertext, where the sequence of reading and exploring is left to the reader’s choice.

The article suggests that Anglo-American criticism can benefit from these approaches by shifting away from problems of definition and terminology associated with the short story cycle as a separate genre. Instead, focusing on the strategies and functions of collections and how they are processed by readers can provide new interpretations. The concept of the recueil and the macrotext allows for a broader analysis of different literary forms, such as poetry and essays, and encourages cross-overs and comparisons between these forms.

The article also mentions the advantages of considering the short story cycle as a separate genre [sic*], as it allows for tracing a tradition of the genre and recognizing elements of “genre memory” in different texts. The importance of publication context and its influence on reader strategies of totalization and cross-linking is highlighted.

The article concludes by introducing the articles in the special issue on the short story cycle**, which offer new interpretations of well-known, forgotten, and contemporary literary texts. The articles cover various aspects of the short story cycle, including its precursors, cyclical form, spatiotemporal dynamics, meta-poetic concerns, and the tension between unity and fragmentation. The short story cycle is portrayed as a rich and fruitful area of research, continually captivating contemporary writers.


D’hoker, E. (2013): “The short story cycle: Broadening the perspective” in Short Fiction in Theory & Practice, 3(2), 151-159.

Link: (direct download)


*= I prefer the term ‘form’ but that is a matter of debate!
**= Short Fiction in Theory & Practice, Volume 3 Number 2


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