Sunday, May 27, 2007


Short stories as a literary form would probably be second only to poetry in terms of the number of pieces churned out by writers all over the world. The Decameron, the Canterbury Tales, the Thousand and One Nights are examples of early short story forms. In France the notable short story writers were Gustave Flaubert, Guy de Maupassant, Anatole France just to name a few flourished and were acclaimed masters of the genre during their time.

In America short story writing found impetus during the early twentieth century when magazines and other periodicals printed short stories as additional content as well as an added come-on to readers to patronize their publications. Short stories as a feature of popular magazines stayed on for quite a while but went on the wane towards the start of the seventies. Except for a few publications like the New Yorker short stories are now a rarity as a magazine feature.

Authors such as O’ Henry, Bret Harte, Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, HH Munro (Saki} and others found it possible to earn a living writing short stories. Because of time (some had contracts which obligated them to churn out a short story every month) and financial pressures this gave rise to an unfortunately termed piece, the “potboilers”, which some authors succumbed to write because the genre had become a veritable source of reliable livelihood to the otherwise starving artists of the literary circles. It might be heretical of me to have mentioned the aforementioned luminaries in the same breath as “potboilers” but they, with so many others have produced at one time or another works that would be in this scurrilous category.

There was intense competition among the short story writers at that time. Competition was either bane or boon to literature. It was bad that it spawned more and more production of less worthy literary pieces but at the same time it also spurred the writing of more and better short stories. On balance the good effects far outweigh the bad ones. The “potboilers “ would have been justly swept under the rug to be readily forgotten while the brilliant ones, and there were many of them, have stayed on for posterity and benefited the future generation of literature lovers.

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