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The American Short Story Handbook

ISBN: 978-1-118-90213-4
328 pages
December 2014, Wiley-Blackwell
The American Short Story Handbook (1118902130) cover image


This is a concise yet comprehensive treatment of the American short story that includes an historical overview of the topic as well as discussion of notable American authors and individual stories, from Benjamin Franklin’s “The Speech of Miss Polly Baker” in 1747 to “The Joy Luck Club”.

  • Includes a selection of writers chosen not only for their contributions of individual stories but for bodies of work that advanced the boundaries of short fiction, including Washington Irving, Sarah Orne Jewett, Stephen Crane, Jamaica Kincaid, and Tim O’Brien
  • Addresses the ways in which American oral storytelling and other narrative traditions were integral to the formation and flourishing of the short story genre
  • Written in accessible and engaging prose for students at all levels by a renowned literary scholar to illuminate an important genre that has received short shrift in scholarly literature of the last century
  • Includes a glossary defining the most common terms used in literary history and in critical discussions of fiction, and a bibliography of works for further study
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Table of Contents

Preface vii

Part 1 Introduction 1

Part 2 Historical Overview of the American Short Story 9

The American Story to Washington Irving 12

The Age of Romanticism 20

Realism and Naturalism 26

American Modernism 39

The Contemporary American Short Story 46

Part 3 Notable Authors of American Short Stories 55

Washington Irving 57

Edgar Allan Poe 62

Nathaniel Hawthorne 67

Herman Melville 71

Mark Twain 76

Bret Harte 82

Henry James 86

Kate Chopin 91

Stephen Crane 96

O. Henry 101

Sarah Orne Jewett 105

Charles W. Chesnutt 109

Willa Cather 115

F. Scott Fitzgerald 120

Ernest Hemingway 126

John Steinbeck 132

William Faulkner 139

Jamaica Kincaid 144

Tim O’Brien 150

Louise Erdrich 156

Part 4 Great American Short Stories 163

Benjamin Franklin, “The Speech of Polly Baker” 165

Ruri Colla, “The Story of the Captain’s Wife and an Aged Woman” 168

Washington Irving, “Rip Van Winkle” 172

Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Young Goodman Brown” 177

Edgar Allan Poe, “The Cask of Amontillado” 180

Herman Melville, “Bartleby, the Scrivener” 184

Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, “The Two Offers” 189

Hamlin Garland, “Under the Lion’s Paw” 192

Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper” 196

Henry James, “The Real Thing” 202

Kate Chopin, “Désirée’s Baby” 206

Ambrose Bierce, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” 210

Stephen Crane, “The Blue Hotel” 214

Frank Norris, “A Deal in Wheat” 218

Edith Wharton, “The Other Two” 222

Willa Cather, “A Wagner Matinée” 226

Jack London, “To Build a Fire” 230

Jean Toomer, “Blood-Burning Moon” 233

F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Babylon Revisited” 236

Ernest Hemingway, “Indian Camp” 241

John Steinbeck, “The Chrysanthemums” 245

Eudora Welty, “Petrified Man” 249

William Faulkner, “Barn Burning” 253

Flannery O’Connor, “The River” 257

Tillie Olsen, “Help Her to Believe” [“I Stand Here Ironing”] 261

Raymond Carver, “Cathedral” 265

Louise Erdrich, “The Red Convertible” 269

Susan Minot, “Hiding” 273

Amy Tan, “The Joy Luck Club” 277

Tim O’Brien, “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” 281

Jamaica Kincaid, “Columbus in Chains” 285

Judith Cofer, “Nada” 289

A Glossary for the Study of the American Short Story 293

Selected Books for Further Study of the American Short Story 303

Index 307

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Author Information

James Nagel is the Eidson Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia and a Visiting Scholar at Dartmouth College, USA. He is President of the Society for the Study of the American Short Story and Former President of the International Ernest Hemingway Society.  Early in his career he founded the scholarly journal Studies in American Fiction and the widely influential series Critical Essays on American Literature, which published 156 volumes of scholarship.  Among his twenty-three books are Stephen Crane and Literary Impressionism (1980), Hemingway in Love and War (1989, which was made into a Hollywood film starring Sandra Bullock), The Contemporary American Short-Story Cycle (2001), Anthology of The American Short Story (2007), The Blackwell Companion to the American Short Story (Wiley Blackwell, 2010), and Race and Culture in Stories of New Orleans (2014). He has been a Fulbright Professor as well as a Rockefeller Fellow. He has published some eighty articles in the field and lectured on American literature in fifteen countries.

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"A stunning contribution by an acknowledged master of the study of the genre. With a superb introduction, choice of stories, and scholarly support, Nagel's new volume will the first choice for any reader. This is the definitive collection and handbook on the American short story."—Jeanne Reesman, University of Texas at San Antonio

“This new Handbook offers a valuable overview of the American short story with attention to individual authors and masterpieces as well as to the historical development of the form.  There is no scholar who knows more about the short story in the United States than James Nagel, and students will find this book to be reliable, informative, and illuminating.”—Alfred Bendixen, Princeton University

“A brilliant chronological mapping of the largely ignored genre of the American short story, by one of the master scholars of American literature.  Generous in its historical inclusiveness and rich contextualization, this is far more than a “Handbook.” It will stand for some time as the definitive work in the field as it establishes the emerging tradition and the canon of the American short story.”—Gloria Cronin, Brigham Young University

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