Short Story Cycles

The Short Story Cycle in Ireland: From Jane Barlow to Donal Ryan

NOTE: The original abstract of this dissertation is not readable. Therefore I have elected to post an excerpt from its introduction instead:

The Short Story Cycle in Ireland (1890s – present):  


The short story cycle is a collection of interconnected stories, occupying a position mid-way between the loose collection of short stories and the more highly unified form of the novel.  Consisting of individual stories, which are nonetheless linked to each other, this hybrid form is characterized by a tension between unity and fragmentation. The interrelation between the separate parts can be provided by a shared setting, character(s) or central theme, which is then underscored by other unifying elements such as a clear aesthetic structure or cross-references  throughout the work as a whole. Well-known examples of short story cycles are James  Joyce’s Dubliners (1914) and Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919) or, somewhat more recently, Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women (1971) and Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck  Club (1989). The critical study of the short story cycle started off in the 1970s with Forrest L.  Ingram’s monograph, and has since led to several prominent studies of the literary form in both the nineteenth and the twentieth century, mostly in the United States and Canada (e.g.  Mann 1989, Lynch 2001, Nagel 2001). 

Unlike in North America, the short story cycle is not recognized as a subgenre in Irish literary studies. Despite the popularity of the short story in Ireland, there does not appear to be a literary or critical tradition of the Irish short story cycle. If at all, the term ‘linked stories’ is used, but a clear genre concept does not exist. Still, much like in North America, the situation in Ireland is favourable for the short story cycle to flourish as a literary form. Critics have explained the success of the American and Canadian short story cycle by the presence of a  strong oral storytelling tradition, an interest in place and national identity, a literary focus on conflicts between individual and community, and a strong tradition and popularity of the short story (Kennedy 1995, Lundén 1999, Lynch 2001, Nagel 2001). These statements are also true for the situation in Ireland. Moreover, Joyce’s Dubliners is considered one of the archetypes of the cycle form, together with Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (Nagel 2000: 9). It is striking,  then, that similar contexts have led to the critical prominence and popularity of the short story cycle in North America on the one hand, and the critical and commercial absence of the form in Ireland on the other. 

In this dissertation, I aim to show that, in addition to Dubliners, many other Irish collections of short stories actually qualify as cycles as well. In doing so, I will investigate whether a tradition of the short story cycle can be discerned in Ireland, and what its representatives are. I will discuss a number of what I believe to qualify as Irish short story cycles – written in English – focusing on whether they display the tension between unity and fragmentation typical of the cycle, whether there is a relation between form and content and whether traces can be found of the Bakhtinian concept of “genre memory”. This concerns the influence of generic conventions and traditions on individual writers – whether conscious or unconscious. In the context of Irish literature, a collection could for instance be viewed as displaying an awareness of the cycle as a literary form by writing back to Dubliners. In short,  this dissertation seeks, on the one hand, to examine some twenty-five Irish cycles in formal,  thematic and generic terms, and to trace the development of the short story cycle as a literary form in Ireland from the 1890s until the present on the other.


from Brouckmans, Debbie (2015): The Short Story Cycle in Ireland: From Jane Barlow to Donal Ryan.

Link:$$DPhD-Debbie Brouckmans_The SSC in Ireland-DEFINITIEF.pdf [freely available]


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