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Special Section: Affect and the Short Story and Cycle

Roundtable: Affect, the Short Story, and the Cycle

p. 163-213

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The Roundtable

1The editors of this special section asked a panel of experts to weigh in on questions related to the short story, the short story cycle, genre and form, emotion, affect, and effects on the reader. The roundtable is divided into two sections, the first of which deals with connections between genre, form, and affect, and the second of which deals with the short story cycle. Biographies of the contributors follow:

2Patrick Colm Hogan is a professor in the English Department and the Program in Cognitive Science at the University of Connecticut. He is the author of seventeen books, including works on narrative theory (The Mind and Its Stories [2003], Understanding Nationalism: On Narrative, Identity, and Cognitive Science [2009], Affective Narratology [2011], and Narrative Discourse [2013]) and a book-length, narrative poem (The Death of the Goddess [2014]).

3Gerald Lynch was born in Ireland and grew up in Canada. In 2001, the University of Toronto Press published his second book of criticism, The One and the Many: English-Canadian Short Story Cycles, and then in 2002 the compilation Leacock on Life. He is also the author of Stephen Leacock: Humour and Humanity (1998) and of numerous essays and short stories. He has published five books of fiction, including two short story cycles, Kisbey and Troutstream, the frame tale One’s Company, and the novels Exotic Dancers and Missing Children. He has been the recipient of a few prizes for his writing, including the gold award for short fiction in Canada’s National Magazine Awards. He is Professor of English at the University of Ottawa, where he has taught since 1985.

4Justine Murison is an associate professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her first book, The Politics of Anxiety in Nineteenth-Century American Literature, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2011. She is currently working on a book-length project on secularism, slavery, and American fiction from the Revolution through the Civil War.

5James Nagel is the Eidson Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Georgia and a Visiting Scholar at Dartmouth College. He is the president of the international Society for the Study of the American Short Story and a 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. Among his twenty-four books are Stephen Crane and Literary Impressionism, Hemingway in Love and War, The Contemporary American Short-Story Cycle, Race and Culture in Stories of New Orleans, and Handbook of the American Short Story. He has published some eighty articles in the field and lectured on American literature in fifteen countries.

6Jane Thrailkill is Bowman and Gordon Gray Distinguished Term Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She works on the relationship between literature and science, widely construed. Her first book is Affecting Fictions: Mind, Body, and Emotion in American Literary Realism, and she is finishing a second monograph on Alice, William, and Henry James. She is director of the graduate program in Literature, Medicine and Culture at UNC and co-founder of Carolina’s Medical Humanities Lab.

7Miriam Wallace is professor of English at New College of Florida and Director of Gender Studies. She has written extensively on literature and politics in late eighteenth-century Britain, from Revolutionary Subjects in the English “Jacobin” Novel to an edited collection, Enlightening Romanticism, Romancing Enlightenment: British Fiction 1750-1830. With A. A. Markley, Wallace co-edited the first collection of essays dedicated to the autodidact playwright, novelist, and organic intellectual, Thomas Holfcroft (Re-viewing Thomas Holcroft, 1745-1809). She has also published on Virginia Woolf, gendered subjectivity, and Woolf’s debt to the eighteenth century.

Section 1: Genre, Form, and Affect

1. Affective Operation, Length, and Structure

8Could the short story be reasonably defined as much by its affective operation on readers as it is by its length or structure?


9NAGEL: The simple answer to this question is no, although the formulation of the question is critically loaded. No one has argued that length and structure are the two key elements in defining a short story. There is much more to it than that. As to length, it would seem true that there are some outer limits (not very precise) to length. No one has argued that there is a short story over 500 pages in length, for example, and normally the dividing line between story and novella is regarded as being roughly 60-70 pages. Structure is a good thing to be aware of in reading a story, but it is not a definitive element. A reader who confronted “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” without seeing the differences among the three sections of the story would have missed something important, including the three different narrative techniques with varying levels of reliability.

10As this example demonstrates, the “formal” study of fiction yields some of the key aspects of short fiction that an intelligent reader should consider. Narrative stance is central, since a sensitivity to the motive of the speaker in telling the narrative is fundamental. A determination of whether the voice is imperious, confessional, coldly rational, or emotionally involved is a preliminary step to understanding what is told. The narrator could be searching for the truth or hiding something, or both. Time is also a factor. A first-person retrospective narrative stance necessarily involves two time periods: the time of the telling and the time of the action. Events can have different values in the two time periods. A story about a dog playing fetch in a field can present a joyous moment in present time, but if it is told years after the dog was tragically killed by a truck, and the narrator is aware of the conclusion, there is also an overlay of poignant memory. A sensitive reader would have a double affect. But some readers will be oblivious to the complexity of the dual time, and have no affective response to it at all. That is a measure of the reader, not the story, and that is one of the weaknesses of evaluating according to this brand of affect.

11Beyond narrative methods, stories also have some sort of plot line, sometimes implied. The short narrative “Not thinking, I poured two glasses” portrays a simple action but implies much about a previous relationship, perhaps a romance, that is no longer. Some readers will say, “I don’t get it.” Most stories have much more action. Most have characters, dialogue (or monologue), patterns of imagery, structural juxtapositions, incremental thematic development, and a conclusion. A reader who misses the imagery of savage beasts attacking each other in a polite Henry James tale about a tea party in a London drawing room will miss much of the social commentary in the story.

12Some readers are intelligent and sensitive, and their responses deserve respect and consideration. Some like or dislike aspects of a story without being able to say why. Other readers are stunningly obtuse, and have very little affective response. A fair majority of the human population has little capacity for an empathetic involvement with the characters in a story, but others are profoundly moved by the events, feeling that these things have happened to them. Many readers felt that about Dreiser’s “The Second Choice” or Ruth Suckow’s “A Start in Life,” particularly after the depressions of the 1890s and 1930s, when people identified with poverty and the limitations it placed on the lower class. This conception of affect is very unreliable as a measure of the quality of a work of literature.

13That being said, it is important to acknowledge that the history of serious commentary about the nature of the American short story begins with a concern for affect. In his review of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Twice-Told Tales in 1842, Edgar Allan Poe postulated that a well-wrought story is fashioned to bring about “a single effect” on the reader, one resulting from the rigorous artistic control of the writer: “In the whole composition there should be no word written of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design” (243). The implications of Poe’s fundamental theory reach into nearly every dimension of the genre of the short story, beginning with the dictum that it be of such length that it can be read comfortably in a single sitting. Although, to be sure, people read at varying speeds, and type face, page size, and other variables make it difficult to establish a precise length in numbers, still a general range for length eventually emerged in the nineteenth century that short fiction would normally run no more than roughly sixty pages. Works longer than that—Stephen Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, for example—would seem to fit into the French tradition of the novella and would appear as a separate volume.

14Beyond the simple matter of length, however, Poe’s ideas presented a difficult standard for writers in the form, for they suggested that the genre required both artistic coherence and thematic congruence, even down to a single word. A work thus constructed, he suggested, could best control the affect of the reader of the tale, sustaining tone, mood, and idea from the beginning to the end. The best demonstration of the efficacy of this theoretical construct comes in his own tales, many of which have never been surpassed for the rigor of this standard. Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado” can be taken to be a case in point. The point of view is consistently first-person retrospective, told by Montresor, who is looking back many decades. Why he is willing to tell about the events is not certain, but his motivation would seem to be either a desire for confession, to tell someone about a murder he committed in hopes of relieving his conscience, or a desire to gloat about a well-executed plan that succeeded in its objective. The tone throughout is consistently kindly and gentlemanly, an ironic stance that heightens the severity of the punishment about to be meted out. The style, too, is elevated, sophisticated, the language of a cultivated class. In short, all aspects of artistry and theme work together.

15In terms of affect, the strategy would seem to be one of intriguing the reader with a lighthearted tale of satisfying revenge, and the mood of the events darkens consistently until the victim, Fortunato, is permanently walled up beneath a Venetian villa. The emotional impact is either one of progressive horror or of rational satisfaction in enjoying the slow revelation of such a clever and deadly stratagem, depending upon the perception or emotional construct of the reader.

16HOGAN (on Nagel): I very much appreciate Professor Nagel’s comments. They bring to mind some possible relations with drama. The “single sitting” criterion is the most obvious. But there are some suggestions of drama’s emotional impact as well.

17One of these is the possible relation of the “twist” to Aristotelian reversal and recognition (cf. responses to question #3 below). That may seem to be a purely cognitive alteration (from ignorance to knowledge). But the point of the change is that it alters emotion, often fear and pity. Such a parallel suggests a perhaps greater generality to Aristotle’s analysis, as I am sure other writers have noted previously. This in turn sets a task for researchers in literature and emplotment—to explain why something along the lines of reversal and recognition would be emotionally effective. Reasons would include the relative immunity to habituation, where emotion becomes dulled through familiarity. The reversed and recognized situation would be new in individual cases even if the processes of reversal and recognition become common. The relatively limited time span of a short story or drama may further limit the possibilities for such habituation. An additional reason for emotional effectiveness would be the enhancement of emotional intensity due to the gradient of change from a prior emotion—also perhaps enhanced by the limited temporal scope.

18Another area of possible convergence comes from the Sanskrit tradition of dramatic theory. From the ancient yaśāstra, this tradition centered on what we would now call the empathic emotion of the spectator. Moreover, in line with Nagel’s (and Poe’s) reflections, this tradition has emphasized the unity of emotional orientation for any given work. Significantly, the dramatic practice associated with the tradition stressed an overall emotional unity, but allowed each act in a drama to have its own dominant emotional tone, with other subdivisions as well. Thus emotional unity was not reduced to emotional uniformity. How this may occur no doubt requires further study. But the Sanskrit theorists suggest some possible directions for research.

19MURISON: In his recent evaluation of the pleasures and challenges posed by Herman Melville’s most famous short story, “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” Jonathan Elmer writes that it is “both very sad and very funny, but criticism on it is largely humorless” (25). Elmer locates in this a telling critical discomfort: “I suspect finally that our mistrust of the narrator lies less in his compromised morality than in the pleasure he takes in telling his story” (26). According to Elmer, “Bartleby” is, in this way, about literariness, about “an attempt at literature” (27). I open with Elmer’s insight as a wedge into the intricate relation of the short story form to affect. The affective work in the narrative, including its humor, and the generic work of the short story are inextricably linked. To put this differently, in its very shortness, a short story often depends upon affective loops and leaps in place of exhaustive detail: there simply is no room to spin a totality. “Bartleby” shows us how this works.

20To return to the opening paragraphs of Melville’s story reminds us that the Lawyer-narrator is concerned, above all else, with choosing his form. He begins by noting that there is nothing yet written about scriveners, and that, if he wanted to, he could write many “divers histories.” Yet he waives writing the “complete lives” of those other scriveners in order to offer “a few passages in the life of Bartleby,” the “strangest” scrivener he “ever saw, or heard of” (3). He cannot, he repeats, provide a “full and satisfactory biography,” a circumstance he calls an “irreparable loss to literature.” The archive of “original sources” is lamentably small. He then ends with a methodological and formal statement: “What my own astonished eyes saw of Bartleby, that is all I know of him, except, indeed, one vague report, which will appear in the sequel” (3). In this way, the opening paragraph recurs to form. The Lawyer is writing a “Story of Wall Street” (as the subtitle of the story has it) in lieu of a “full and satisfactory biography.” He offers only a “few passages” and a “sequel” rather than a “complete life.” In other words, this tale will be short. But it’s more than that, because the archive is suffused with the Lawyer’s affective orientation: Bartleby is the “strangest” of scriveners; the archive is mainly composed of the Lawyer’s own “astonished” eye-witness account.

21This astonishment drives the narrative. “Bartleby” seems to be about, as Sianne Ngai puts it, “the interpretive problems posed by an emotional illegibility” (Ugly Feelings 10). As with the opening paragraph, the story itself is recursive: the continual staging of encounters with Bartleby’s “emotional illegibility.” We might not be astonished, then, that the ending returns to the question of form and is equally imbued with the narrator’s wonder, though tragically cast. Before the Lawyer declares “Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!” he notes: “ere parting with the reader, let me say, that if this little narrative has sufficiently interested him, to awaken curiosity as to who Bartleby was, and what manner of life he had led prior to the present narrator’s making his acquaintance,” the Lawyer wishes he could satisfy it (45-46). Again flagging the story as a “little narrative,” the Lawyer offers the sequel that is based on another short genre, “one little item of rumor” (46): that Bartleby had been employed at the Dead Letter Office in Washington, DC. This story is “little.” Its sequel, if I may be allowed, is littler.

22From a few passages to little narrative to rumor—these are generic shifts so slight they are not necessarily notable, though they all suggest the form of the short story. In the gap between little narrative and sequel, visibly marked on the page by a line break, we see how formal structure and affect work together in Melville’s story. The Lawyer expands upon the rumor about the Dead Letter Office, and, in doing so, he offers the reader an invitation: “Conceive a man by nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness, can any business seem more fitted to heighten it than that of continually handling these dead letters, and assorting them for the flames?” (46). Conceive a man. Is this sequel about Bartleby? Is he the “man” we conceive at the end? How do we get from “Conceive a man” to “Ah, Bartleby! Ah, humanity!”? The narrative certainly does not get us there; our affective investment in Bartleby as an inscrutable character does. Our desire to understand a “man by nature prone to a pallid hopelessness” turns hypothetical at the end of the tale; in other words, it moves away from the “real” and provides readers a space to engage the affective weight of the story. The sequel seems to fill in the logic of Bartleby, but, looking closely, it merely depends on an affective leap on the part of the reader and narrator: we must assume that the “man by nature prone to a pallid hopelessness” is Bartleby.

23The sequel to “Bartleby” thus asks us to consider what the relation between short form fiction and affective reading is. If the short story must deftly convey a world, it operates under constraints strikingly different from the realist novel, the form it grew up with in the nineteenth century. While the realist novel seeks to represent a totality, a whole world, the short story must convey something else. With “Bartleby” we see how circulation and recursion bridge the gap between story content and affective weight, all within the confined space of the short story. Yet the story can only gesture toward affective fulfillment. Just as the final instruction in Melville’s tale prompts us to “conceive a man,” short stories often refuse affective completion. Instead, they bring forward the mechanisms that create this sense of fulfillment, the very literariness that longer novels can obscure as they strive toward representational totality.

24WALLACE (on Murison): Murison reminds us, following Elmer’s insight, that Melville’s “Bartleby” “is […] about literariness” in the sense that it demonstrates how readers respond to the narrator’s questionable pleasure in telling the sad and inconclusive story. She suggests that “The affective work in the narrative, including its humor, and the generic work of the short story are inextricably linked. To put this differently, in its very shortness, a short story often depends upon affective loops and leaps in place of exhaustive detail.” This is a terrific wedge indeed, particularly because it avoids focusing on characters as the possessors of emotions or on affect as something to be found in readers (generically) as they respond, but rather that affect is something produced in and by the narrative. Murison is suggesting that particularly because of its truncation, the short story operates in part through the suggestion of something like affective cathection, an interesting response to Nagel’s observation that while some readers are deeply and immediately empathetic, others “are stunningly obtuse, and have very little affective response.” Might Murison’s way in help us to suggest not that characters or stories “have” affect, but that they operate by creating affect to which attuned readers are called to engage, participate, or reject?

25THRAILKILL (introducing the humorous short story): Michael Trussler in his work on the short story addresses the connection between genre, singularity, and mood. He suggests that the short story’s emphasis on the focal “event,” as opposed to the novel’s insistence on temporal unfolding, produces “the genre’s austere—indeed often melancholic—sensibility.” Quoting Frank O’Connor’s “The Lonely Voice,” he points to “the short story’s tendency to engage thematically ‘loneliness’ and psychological exile: ‘always in the short story there is this sense of outlawed figures wandering about the fringes of society’” (Trussler 562). An affect of melancholia, a thematic of loneliness, an emphasis on the unique event, a focus on an isolate exile—these seem a plausible set of characteristics for the contemporary short story.

26But: what are we to make of the humorous short story, a sub-genre that would appear to trouble each one of these elements? Nineteenth-century U.S. writers were well known for writing in this mode, with Mark Twain as its most celebrated practitioner. His “How to Tell a Story” (1897) offers an early theorization of the genre: “there are several kinds of stories,” he writes, “but only one difficult kind—the humorous” (7). According to Twain, the humorous story is uniquely American, and depends for its effect on the manner of the telling. First, the narrative is characteristically digressive and wayward; it must “be spun out… and may wander around” (7). Second, the narrative voice must convey “innocence and sincerity and unconsciousness,” though Twain hastens to add that the naïve perspective is “perfectly simulated,” a “performance” (11). This sets up the ending: “the rambling and disjointed humorous story finishes with a nub, point, snapper, or whatever you like to call it” (8). Twain gives the example of another American humor writer, Artemus Ward, who “when the belated audience caught the joke he would look up with innocent surprise, as if wondering what they had found to laugh at” (8). Twain concludes, “This is art and fine and beautiful, and only a master can compass it” (11).

27Twain doesn’t describe the affective tone of the humorous story, but I’d argue that Henri Bergson articulates what Twain—in his emphasis on art and technique—leaves unstated. In “Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic” (1900), Bergson argues that “the absence of feeling” is a defining feature of laughter (10, emphasis in original). He doesn’t mean that humor emerges from, or catalyzes, mean-spirited feelings like anger or revenge. (Bergson disagrees with Freud’s psychological account, in which humor masks aggression.) Bergson’s point is that feeling as such kills comedy: “give your sympathy its widest expansion: as though at the touch of a fairy wand you will see the flimsiest of objects assume importance, and a gloomy hue spread over everything. Now step aside, look upon life as a disinterested spectator: many a drama will turn into a comedy” (10-11). A “wide fellow-feeling with all that is human” is, to quote George Eliot, the work of the nineteenth-century novel (507). The humorous story operates in a different register, setting aside affective concerns in favor of something else altogether.

28So what is that something else? Whereas Trussler aligns the short story genre with the affective and the solitary, the comic spirit for Bergson is cognitive and social: “In a society composed of pure intelligences there would probably be no more tears, though perhaps there would still be laughter” (10). Laughter arises, he argues, at the spectacle of an elastic human being acting mechanically: “Several have defined man as ‘an animal which laughs.’ They might equally well have defined him as an animal which is laughed at” (10). For Bergson (and Twain), at the core of the comedic is the essential incongruity of humans acting like things, or things taking on the appearance of the human.

29To shift from humor to history, the vexed relationship between persons and things was the defining problem of the nineteenth century in the United States, whether we think of the rise of consumer culture, the proliferation of factory work, or the legal existence of chattel slavery and the persistence of racial inequality under Jim Crow. At mid-century, the fictional form most explicitly concerned with slavery was the sentimental novel. By century’s end, the humorous short stories of Charles Chesnutt take up the question of race, producing an immanent critique of the affective premise of sentimental fiction. “The Passing of Grandison” (1899), set in antebellum Kentucky, sets up a comedic plot, in which the indolent son of “the Colonel,” a rich plantation owner, tries to win the love of a morally exacting young woman named Charity through the noble act of freeing one of his father’s slaves. The story begins on this note: “When it is said that it was done to please a woman, there ought perhaps to be enough said to explain anything” (168). The apparent butt of the joke is Dick, and his love of Charity (a pun). He gets the idea to free a slave from a story of great “melancholy interest” (169): the tale of a young Ohio man, “moved by compassion for the sufferings of a certain bondman,” who is convicted of “slave-stealing” (168) and dies in prison, infected by cholera while “nursing stricken fellow prisoners” (169). Dick, too, aspires to be a man of feeling.

30Sentiment and romance give way, however, to the conceit of a gambling bet. The Colonel wagers Dick that his loyal slave Grandison is “abolitionist-proof” and will refuse to escape (182). The narrative follows Dick’s attempts to get rid of Grandison, first taking him to New York (where Grandison doesn’t join the abolitionists Dick introduces him to) and then to Canada, where Dick in frustration hires kidnappers to free him of his “ebony encumbrance” (193). Weeks later, the weary traveler Grandison appears back on the Kentucky plantation, explaining that he’d been abducted by abolitionists, from whom he’d barely escaped.

31The humor of the story is broad to the point of minstrelsy, casting Grandison as slavishly unshakable and therefore “gumming the works” of Dick’s bid to impress his beloved. Yet the very qualities that frustrate Dick confirm the Colonel’s sense of the man’s servile nature. The Colonel sees Grandison in Bergsonian terms, as a machine or automaton. The enlightened, post-13th amendment reader laughs at Dick, the man so ineffectual he can’t even free one of his own slaves; and laughs at the Colonel’s absurd outrage at Grandison’s abductors: “Just think of their locking the poor, faithful nigger up, beating him, kicking him, depriving him of his liberty, keeping him on bread and water for three long, lonesome weeks, and he all the time pining for the old plantation!” (199). To a northern sensibility—presumably Chesnutt’s readers—the white characters are risible for their thoughtlessly callous, slavery-inflected world view. Grandison is merely culpable for his “innocence and sincerity and unconsciousness” (Twain 11).

32But of course, these are Twain’s terms for the comic narrator, the seemingly guileless figure who is actually driving the plot, whose meanderings are merely preliminary to the “snapper” (8). Twain calls this figure “a master” of his art, and in Chesnutt’s story, the master turns out to be the slave. The story’s punchline is as surprising to the reader as it is to the Colonel. Three weeks after his return from Canada, Grandison disappears for good—along with his wife, parents, brothers, and niece. The penultimate paragraph describes the Colonel’s cross-country search for the fugitives—“so much valuable property could not be lost without an effort to recover it” (201)—and the last sighting of the group on a ferry to Canada.

33So, as it turns out, the reader who was laughing at them, is in fact not so different from the Colonel, or Dick: The moral problem of slavery (mistaking a human being for a thing) is writ small in the story, in which the reader mistakes a human being for a comedic object.

34We can discern in “The Passing of Grandison” a meta-commentary on the characteristics of the short story with which I began: an emphasis on mood over meaning, on an event rather than a complex unfolding, on an isolate figure rather than a social milieu. The story’s ending upends these notions, favoring meaning, complexity, and sociality. The snapper provokes a cognitive realignment, forcing recognition that Grandison is the hero, not by virtue of a lonely quest but by being a family man successfully playing the long game and effecting an intricate collective escape. Only after reading the last sentence does the reader realize that the story’s first sentence actually gave up the game: “When it is said that it was done to please a woman, there ought perhaps to be enough said to explain anything.” The woman is not Dick’s Charity, but Grandison’s wife Betty—who is only named at the end of the story. Snap!

35Cognitive scientist Matthew Hurley explains that “humor works as a social corrective because it points out mistakes” (293) and helps transform “our model of the world” (139). “The Passing of Grandison” points out the baseline mistake of both antebellum and Jim Crow America: the denial of the full range of human affect and experience to another. The key “event” is less a single happening in the story world than a reverberative, cognitive event in the reader world. Harriet Beecher Stowe famously urged that readers of the sentimental novel could “see to it that they feel right.” Emulating the structure of a joke, Chesnutt’s story seems oriented to a different end: helping readers think right about others’ feelings and affective investments.

36NAGEL (on Thrailkill): I’d suggest that Thrailkill’s reading of “The Passing of Grandison” is misleading. She describes it as a “comedic plot” that ends in a snapper when the slave, Grandison, comes back to the plantation. First of all, the stories in The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories are not at all comedic but rather standard Realistic stories dealing with ethnicity in protagonists of both races. The dilemma faced by the protagonist in “The Wife of His Youth” is rather similar to that of Silas Lapham: he can deny his former slave wife and marry the beautiful, wealthy, young woman he is now engaged to or affirm that, as a slave, he was married to the bedraggled old woman who stands before him in poverty. His moral choice is the key focus of the story. It is hardly comic. In “The Sheriff’s Children,” the sheriff is confronted with his mulatto son, who has come back to see him and is mistakenly charged with murder. The son commits suicide in his cell. This is comic? But Thrailkill does even worse by “Grandison” by leaving out the last two pages of the story. Rather than return to live on the plantation, as Thrailkill would have it, Grandison has come back to get his family so that they can all escape to Canada, which they do in the conclusion. In fact, they are on the boat crossing the river, looking back at the colonel on the shore, in the final paragraph. Grandison is certainly not guilty of “innocence and sincerity and unconsciousness” at all. Rather, he executes a clever plan to get his entire family out of slavery, and it works. There is no humorous snapper. There is no comedy. Is this kind of reading what affect studies has wrought?

37THRAILKILL (on Nagel): Professor Nagel, thank you for your thoughtful response. You raise an important point, which is the placement of the short story “The Passing of Grandison” within its context in a collection. The two stories you mention, “The Wife of His Youth” and “The Sheriff’s Children,” indeed exemplify William Andrews’s important point that, “For an American reading audience which had seen its racial problems trivialized in popular fiction to yield the horselaugh, the nostalgic sigh, or the sentimental tear, Chesnutt’s moral fervor and his disquieting attention to half-concealed racial tragedies must have made for an unsettling and unwelcome reading experience” (120).

38My argument is that “The Passing of Grandison” does exactly that, though it unsettles in a way canny and subversive, less “unwelcome” and therefore perhaps more effective. I should be more clear about how I situate my analysis, which is to read Chesnutt’s story as engaging explicitly with the nineteenth-century literary tradition: centrally, Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. To use Andrews’ useful framework, “Grandison” employs the comedic mode in order to surface the racial tragedies at the core of Stowe’s novel—the violent sundering of African-American families and love relations—without the comfort of a white Northern sensibility that sheds a sentimental tear, or feels pious outrage, at white Southern callousness. Rather, in allowing his readers to smile at Dick’s fecklessness, and shake their heads at the Colonel’s risible racial stereotyping, even as they too are taken in and surprised by Grandison’s scheme of mass family escape, Chesnutt employs a comedic mode Sacvan Bercovitch described as that of the “Trickster … wearing the Comedic Mask.”

39Here is the salient passage from Bercovitch’s magnificent article, “Deadpan Huck: Or What’s Funny about Interpretation”:

So here’s the Trickster set-up, American-style… the deadpan artist is Mark Twain, wearing the Comic Mask, doing his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there’s anything grave, let alone sinister, about his story—and he succeeds famously. Then, as we laugh, or after we’ve laughed, we may realize, if we’re alert, that there’s something we’ve overlooked. We haven’t seen what’s funny about the fact that we’ve found it all so funny. This Trickster has conned us, somehow diverted our attention away from the real point, and we have to go back over the story in order to recognize its nub. (10)

40In Bercovitch’s account, the reader of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the ultimate “butt” of Twain the Trickster, the con-man—with Huck and certainly Jim as pawns in the author’s dark satirical enterprise. In my reading of “The Passing of Grandison,” by contrast, the Trickster is Grandison himself, but with a twist. Unlike Twain’s authorial manipulations, Grandison’s comedic achievement requires not merely an elaborate theory of mind—Henri Bergson famously wrote that the comic spirit worked in the absence of feeling, in the realm of pure intelligence—but also affective motivation (aka love) to free an entire family rather than an isolate self. Chesnutt in creating Grandison offers a character with the emotional depth and nobility of spirit of Uncle Tom and Jim—with the shrewdness and ability to manipulate an audience, characteristic of both Twain and, frankly, Stowe.

41Chesnutt—in a story that stands out in The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories for its kinship with folk traditions of storytelling—charts a course between the Scylla of Stowe’s sentimentalism and the Charybdis of Twain’s ultimately nihilistic satire (most evident in Twain’s later works). Prof. Nagel is exactly right to note that Grandison, under the Colonel’s nose but also under the reader’s, “executes a clever plan to get his entire family out of slavery, and it works.” My argument is simply that the story works, too. Its comedic structure ends not in a death but in a marriage, or really a “marriage-plus”: an entire family liberated to the “green world” of Canada to live and love as they choose. This collective escape is the snapper that startles the reader—if he “gets” the ending (and I’ve found that not every student reading the story does)—into a more capacious theory of mind than he had going in. In this, I would argue, Chesnutt achieves a realism of the highest order, by producing an ingenious work of literature that represents the world as it is while also laying the (non-pious, non-prescriptive) groundwork for a better one.

42LYNCH (on Thrailkill): I was already thinking how the humorous-satiric short story is exceptional to much of what is said theoretically about the story and affect, and Thrailkill’s remarks above got me thinking further about the exceptional Stephen Leacock, Canadian master of the humorous short story, and for the period roughly 1915-25 the English-speaking world’s most popular writer of comic short stories. Along with writing some of the major works in the genre in that heyday of the story and essay, Leacock also published critical biographies of Dickens and Twain, his two major influences, a book titled How to Write, and two books on the purposes and techniques of comic writing (among some 80 books and pamphlets on everything from the economics of nickel to pressing America to join both world-war efforts). His own short stories, as distinguished from the early Twain’s and Ward’s et al., are determinedly humorous rather than satiric. Their philosophical-political basis is conservative rather than liberal. And their affective appeal is to sympathy, identification, and humanity, which is not to say that Leacock couldn’t be satiric when need be (see his Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich of 1914, a story cycle and the companion volume to 1912’s local-color story cycle Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town). If I remember rightly, Bergson’s Le Rire is one of the main studies of the comic referenced that is spared Leacock’s reflexive anti-academic dismissal. Understandably so: Bergson viewed the comic spirit as serving a socially normalizing function, which is essentially how Leacock’s humorous short stories work. They appeal to the humane emotions in humorously satirizing the eccentricities of materialism, individualism, capitalism, romance, religion, politics—in short, everything we’re not supposed to talk about in polite society. In the introduction to Thomas McCulloch’s early nineteenth-century story cycle, The Letters of Mephibosheth Stepsure (ser. 1821-23), Northrop Frye observed that “the prevailing tone of Canadian humor ever since” Thomas McCullough has been “deeply conservative in a human sense” (ix). Frye added that Canadian humorous writings of the nineteenth century were distinguished from the American by providing not just “a series of jokes” but a “vision of society” (ix).

43On the didactic or moral tale

44WALLACE: The origin of the short story in the British tradition is conventionally located in the later nineteenth century, reaching a high point in the early twentieth-century moment of high modernism. But one could make an argument for earlier candidates. Might attending to affective impact and function give us another way to think about earlier short fiction’s claim to belonging beyond merely circumscribed length? As a scholar working primarily in the long eighteenth century, I’m even more interested in how earlier concerns for affect or that older yet suggestive term “emotion” might engage contemporary critical considerations. Valerie Shaw reminds us that

there was little inclination to apply the new term ‘short story’ to indigenous products that had been around for centuries. This places the genre in a rather curious position. ... an aesthetic for the British short story seemed to develop simultaneously with the genre itself, label and object emerging alongside each other. (3)

45So one might begin in part by questioning this collusion between naming and object—and turning to affect writ large is one way to do this.

46Looking back historically is another, where “affect” points back to multiple terms now out of favor, but that differently map the resonance between body and psyche such as “sensibility” or “passion,” or that insist on the social quality of emotions like “sympathy” (later under German influence distinguished as “empathy”).

47Very briefly then, I’d like to ask what thinking about affective effects, or even emotion, not as an attribute of persons, but as something produced in the interaction between writer, reader, and text, might help us make of a particularly troubling form of fiction, the didactic or moral tale. Certainly we do not associate the moral tale with high modernism, and yet, I would suggest this older form does persist from the eighteenth century through the line of Woolf and into twentieth-century authors like Alice Walker, and for some of the same reasons. Must the definition of the ‘short story’ as something highly wrought, torn between anecdote and lyric, rely on a aesthetic that would refuse to include didactic or satirical writing, or rather, writing with designs on its reader? What gets excluded if we do that, and particularly what are the politics of that exclusion?

48Richard Steele’s short tale in The Spectator of Tuesday, 13 March, 1711 raises some of the questions Edgar Allen Poe implied by conceiving of the short story as focused on “a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out” (cited in Shaw, 9). Arietta, a woman “in that time of Life which is neither affected with the Follies of Youth or infirmities of Age” and whose “Conversation is so mixed with Gaiety and Prudence, that she is agreeable both to the Young and the Old,” is offended by a visitor who, thinking to be witty, tells the tale of the Ephesian Matron. Her response is a counter-tale of an Englishman, Thomas Inkle, who is the sole survivor of a party seeking financial wealth in the new world, rescued and hidden by a native maiden, Yarico. Told very briefly in two paragraphs, Yarico hides Inkle and cares for him until “the Lovers … had learn'd a Language of their own” and Inkle communicates his desire to take her to his country, dress her in silks, and care for her in turn. Yarico then discovers a European ship, signals it successfully, and the couple are taken aboard. The narrator, Arietta, explains that “When a Vessel from the Main arrives in that Island, it seems the Planters come down to the Shoar, where there is an immediate Market of the Indians and other Slaves, as with us of Horses and Oxen”—and in short, Inkle decides to reward his lost time by selling Yarico and pocketing the proceeds, “notwithstanding that the poor Girl, to incline him to commiserate her Condition, told him that she was with Child by him But he only made use of that Information, to rise in his Demands upon the Purchaser.” The tale is overtly didactic—overtly calling for an affective response from the reader: “I was so touch’d with this Story, (which I think should be always a Counterpart to the Ephesian Matron) that I left the Room with Tears in my Eyes.” In short, the proper response to one story is another, and the proper social emotion called for through the multiple frames (Mr. Spectator, Arietta, the tale itself) is one of sympathetic tears.

49We might see this kind of sympathetic bodily response (tears of sensibility) as terribly old-fashioned (and dangerously self-indulgent). Yet the call for a socio-political response is echoed in a story from a major figure of literary modernism whose short stories are known for expressive indeterminacy and floating affect, Virginia Woolf. In Woolf’s “A Society” from the collection, Monday or Tuesday, a group of women at tea, praising men, are interrupted when one of their members who is compelled by her father’s Will to read all the books in the London library bursts into tears. She confesses that her reading demonstrates that contemporary books—literature, history, poetry—are all execrably badly written—that while the women have been producing the babies, the men have failed to produce the art and knowledge the women have entrusted with them. Since they agree the purpose of life is to produce good people and good books, the women determine to form a society, visiting different male enclaves (Navy, Oxbridge, etc.), and reporting back; they refuse to bear children until they are satisfied. But their plan is short circuited when one of them, Castalia, returns pregnant, and finally fully interrupted when war is declared, though none of them knows for what. The tale ends years later, post-war. Castalia’s daughter is, to her mother’s distress, already learning how to read, and so the remaining members name her the President of the Society of the future, upon which the child bursts into tears.

50Both Steele’s moral anecdote and Woolf’s satirical short story have designs on the reader. Steele’s is older and different in structure and tone while Woolf’s is from the height of the modernist short story, yet both have a satirical bite and both aim to provoke intellectual thought in the reader. Both are in some sense didactic, rather than lyrical or compressed expressions. While as Christine Reynier, in “Virginia Woolf’s Ethic of the Short Story” notes, “emotion is foregrounded” in Woolf’s conception of the short story (and in Steele’s framing narrative), the kind of emotion that is foregrounded here isn’t the floating affect of some of Woolf’s or Mansfield’s other stories (like “Kew Gardens” or “Bliss”). Rather, what is highlighted here is affective knowledge that is less a property of a person and more social, but also explicitly instructive.

2. Form and Affect

51This special section is organized, in part, around an interest in the relationship between form and affect (or perhaps between form, genre, affect, and effect). One widely-held view of affect studies sees its approaches as tied to anything (psychoanalysis, phenomenology, reader response, feminism, queer theory, and so on) but traditional literary ideas of form. What does a focus on affect have to teach us about more formally oriented theories—narratology, for example?


52THRAILKILL: The short story is good at leveraging gaps, and for some critics, this aspect is its defining characteristic: “Unlike the novel, the short story does not attempt to embrace the whole of experience with its complex fabric of causal processes or elaborate temporal durations; instead it presents ‘slices’ or ‘snapshots’ of reality” (Pâtea 11). The short story cycle, with its “patterns of recurrence and development” (qtd. in Lynch 25), similarly lends itself to what John Dewey identified as the aesthetic nature of experience: “Because of continuous merging, there are no holes, mechanical junctions, and dead centers when we have an experience. There are pauses, places of rest, but they punctuate and define the quality of movement” (Dewey 36). The interspersing of slices, pauses, snapshots, and places of rest is arguably the sine qua non of this short narrative form.

53On the sequel

54I’ve been thinking about a short story mode that includes a significant “pause” that exists outside the diegetic frame: I refer to the sequel. Pairing two stories in this way produces an intriguing extra-textual gap, in which a single work—which upon initial publication is presented as complete, giving no indication of an impending follow-up—is then finished or concluded by a second. The appearance of a sequel creates a “book-end” effect, with the production of new, temporal spaces between the two, existing both in the reader’s world (e.g. one year between publication dates) and, discrepantly, in the story world (e.g. 50 diegetic years between the first story’s events and those depicted in the sequel). To use Dewey’s terms, the arrival of a sequel produces precisely a “hole” or a “dead center” in an imagined, larger narrative.

55To put this a slightly different way: a sequel doesn’t just conclude the original story; it produces a phantom novel. Two instances from the late nineteenth century come immediately to mind. Stephen Crane’s story “The Veteran” (1896) appeared the year after the publication of the story it concludes, The Red Badge of Courage. Kate Chopin wrote “The Storm” five years after “At the ‘Cadian Ball” (1893); five years also pass in the characters’ story world. In both instances, a publication gap becomes an occasion for what Jennifer J. Smith calls “extra-textual maturation,” marked in each sequel by the arrival of a new generation.

56Crane’s “The Veteran” picks up roughly 50 years after Red Badge, with Henry Fleming now a grandfather reminiscing about his youthful Civil War experiences. Chopin’s “The Storm” focuses on the lives of two couples of different social classes, now married with children, whose marital trajectory had almost been deflected five years earlier when—as depicted in “At the ‘Cadian Ball”—the Creole planter Alcée had flirted with the sexy Cajun Calixta. Between Red Badge and “The Veteran” hovers a ghostly bildungsroman; between “At the ‘Cadian Ball” and “The Storm” lies a virtual domestic novel.

57My question is, can we determine an affective structure that correlates with the unexpected, unrepresented narrative gap associated with the short story sequel? Like the vase that is implied by the outline of two sketched faces in profile, this story configuration—a concise original paired with an even more succinct sequel—calls attention to the empty yet determinative space in between: an absent presence of that which has been elided or “missed.” As those familiar with the work of Cathy Caruth will know, this describes how some critics have theorized trauma, as a “missed encounter” with events that can only be retrieved after the fact, never directly experienced. Caruth expands this structure to encompass “the peculiar, temporal structure, the belatedness, of historical experience” (203). Trauma for Caruth inheres “solely in the structure of its experience or reception: the event is not assimilated or experienced fully at the time, but only belatedly, in its repeated possession of the one who experiences it. To be traumatized is precisely to be possessed by an image or event” (Caruth 3; italics in original).

58What is interesting about the two sequels I’m considering is that the action of the reader mimes that of the characters. Just as the central characters are “possessed by an image or event” from the past—Henry Fleming, along with Alcée and Calixta, spends time in the sequel re-narrating the first story—so is the reader put in shadowy touch with the events of the prior stories. To further turn the screw: both Red Badge and “At the ‘Cadian Ball,” the original stories, have at their center a “missed” event, a primal experience that didn’t happen despite the characters’ persistent bodily sense it would: death, in the case of Henry Fleming; and sex, in the case of Alcée and Calixta. Whether or not the reader has read the original, the effect is arguably the same. The sequels would appear to set in motion the operations of traumatic memory, insofar as they attempt to reclaim an event—the original story, as well as the elided “gap years” between the stories—that are both unnarrated and unnarratable.

59Is this a matter of genre, though? We could of course simply see the affective structure of “missing” an event as a characteristic theme of the two authors. Crane and Chopin both wrote in the American naturalist tradition, with an eye to the effects of unassimilated experience. For Crane, the naïve point of view of a “green” soldier provided a window into the shock and dislocation of war; for Chopin, the naïve point of view of a romantic young woman provided a window into the inevitable disillusion (and frequent dissolution) of marriage. Both writers are known for their distinctive irony, a rhetorical device that at once narrates and produces distance from that which it describes. Both sequels, moreover, describe characteristically traumatic events: a barn fire in “The Veteran,” and a violent storm in Chopin’s story.

60Yet it is precisely by narrating these events with a difference, I want to suggest, that Crane’s and Chopin’s follow-up stories work to repair the thematic and formal gaps (what Caruth might call the wounds) expressed by the paired stories. (In Dewey’s terms, the “dead center”—whatever transpired between stories—becomes an animating absence that allows for transformation.) As an elderly man, admired in his rural community, Henry Fleming admits to his cowardice, something that remained unspoken and unacknowledged in the equivocal ending of Red Badge. “He was a man” is the keynote at the end of the original story; “The Veteran,” by contrast, begins with Henry saying in public, to a laughing, appreciative audience, “‘You bet I was scared! […] So I run!’” When the fire in the barn breaks out, Henry again runs: this time, into the burning structure, repeatedly, saving terrified animals until the roof falls in. The last paragraph describes the “funnel of smoke” that rose, “as if the old man’s might spirit, released from its body—a little bottle—had swelled like the genie of fable.”

61In “The Storm,” a lashing rain causes Alcée to take shelter in a small cottage, where he finds Calixta, whose husband and son are caught elsewhere in the storm. “At the ‘Cadian Ball” concluded with the two couples newly betrothed, but its ironic ending pointed to the unstated anti-romance of Alcée’s being tricked into engagement and Calixta’s subsequent peevish acceptance of her “dull-looking and clumsy” suitor’s marriage proposal. “The Storm,” by contrast, narrates a luxurious sex scene between Alcée and Calixta, but afterward depicts them (as well as their spouses and children) in laughing domestic scenes feeling—for very different reasons—“nothing but satisfaction” with their marriages. The sequel’s last line is delightfully comedic: “So the storm passed and everyone was happy.”

62So it seems to me that, while the structure of the short story sequel could lend itself to the affective structure of trauma, Crane and Chopin gesture to another possibility. In their hands, the sequel becomes an artful means for supplying the missing event from the first story: a heroic death for an elderly Henry (rather than a cynical “red badge of courage”) and happy sex for married Alcée and Calixta (rather than a destructive moment of passion). Both stories end with an ironic acceptance of life’s messy gaps, slices, and snapshots, as well as its surprising pauses and places of rest. And the reader is satisfied at the outcome: a good death for an old man, and good sex for two people young enough to enjoy it and old enough to not let it spoil good marriages. To my mind, these sequels call attention to the work of art, in the Deweyan sense: to produce moments of “consummatory experience” rather than to serve as vehicles for trauma.

63LYNCH (on Thrailkill): I am thought-provoked by much in this, but here it must suffice to observe that Thrailkill’s intriguing analysis of the function of gaps in paired sequels of stories (neither of which particular sequels I’d known, so thanks for that, too) complements my recent thinking about the function of gaps between and among the stories of a cycle. As Wolfgang Iser first led me to think, such gaps throughout short story cycles enable much creative work between writer and reader (contra the continuities of the conventional novel) and, as Thrailkill suggests, imply a metafictive strategy at work in such a narrative structure. I have no further thoughts (yet) on how this might work affectively or traumatically in short story cycles because, with respect to those critical-theoretical approaches, there are great gaps in my knowledge… (of course an ellipsis)

64On story organization and affect

65HOGAN: In The Mind and Its Stories: Narrative Universals and Human Emotion and Affective Narratology: The Emotional Structure of Stories, I have argued that stories are fundamentally organized by simulations of character emotions, developed in such a way as to provoke and sustain recipient—reader or viewer—emotions. The process is straightforward. Paradigmatic stories concern agents trying to achieve some goal. That goal is necessarily defined by some motivation system, which is to say some emotion. Recipient responses may be parallel (thus empathic) or complementary (roughly, anti-empathic). This is often a function of group identity, such that we assume a parallel stance toward characters we categorize as ingroup members and a complementary stance toward characters we categorize as outgroup members (though there are complications here).

66The basic structure of stories, suggested in different forms by a range of narratologists, follows from this, along with some basic principles of cognitive and emotional processing. Roughly, stories begin with the establishment of the motivation and end with the achievement of the goal or the loss of the goal. The middle of the story commonly involves the intensification of the opposite of the ending. This results from the operation of our emotion systems, such that the outcome emotion tends to be intensified by a sharp gradient of change from one emotion to a contradictory emotion. Happiness is intensified when there is a sharp change from sorrow; grief is intensified when there is a sharp change from joy.

67Beyond this basic structure, specific motivation systems generate particular genres. For example, the system of attachment bonding produces the family separation and reunion plot. The combination of the attachment and sexual desire systems in romantic love produces the romantic genre. Complications in the genre structures are bound up with emotion systems as well. For example, emotional relations involved with romantic love yield some standard complications in romantic tragedy and tragi-comedy. For example, the negative effects of jealousy may guide the development of a love triangle in the middle of the story; conflict in attachment feelings is part of the reason why the lovers’ separation is often caused by parents; the relation of person attachment and place attachment fosters the motif of exile. (The list could be extended.)

68A set of such genres recurs across cultures with different degrees of frequency. In addition to the familial and romantic genres just named, the heroic genre is particularly common. It is based on pride, both individual and bearing on some identity-group, as well as the emotional orientations that are part of outgrouping. Structurally, this genre involves two common sub-sequences. One treats social defense against enemy invasion; the other treats an attempt to usurp legitimate authority within the identity ingroup.

69Before going on, I should note that not all stories follow the cross-culturally recurring genre forms. Moreover, the preceding list of such forms is itself incomplete. However, stories often do fall into the recurring genres even when they are not prototypical of those genres. In other words, stories are often guided by the same emotion systems or combinations of emotion systems (attachment, pride, and so on), even when the precise development of the sequence of events is non-prototypical.

70When Paul Ardoin invited me to take part in this exchange, I thought I should read more short stories in English—since I tend to be deficient in familiarity with short stories generally and those in English particularly. Being, like everyone, short on time, I thought I could listen to some stories on audiobook. Though perhaps not the favorite of academics, O. Henry is undoubtedly one of the most loved American short story writers. I settled on him.

71Listening to the collection selected for the audiobook, I was struck by the degree to which the stories take up the prototypical genres. The first story on the recording, “By Courier,” is about romantic separation and reunion. It focuses on the love triangle part of the plot and includes the motif of the lover’s exile. The second story, “Jimmie Hayes and Muriel,” takes up and varies the invasion/defense section of the heroic plot, with a young man fighting against bandits crossing the border with Mexico. The third is romantic, focusing again on the love triangle sequence. The fourth, “Roads of Destiny,” is a story of three different timelines, dependent on the protagonist’s choice of which path to take at a fork in the road. The first timeline concerns parental interference in marriage (with some surprising twists). The second involves a usurpation sequence from the heroic plot. The third timeline (the suicide of a failed poet)—thus, in effect, the sixth story in the collection--is the first that does not fall into one of the (emotion-defined) genre categories.

72NAGEL (on Hogan): I should say a few things about the nature of the short story in response to Hogan’s comment that narratologists generally agree that stories are structured on the motivation of a character and either the achievement of that goal or the loss of it. I rather like that observation, but it is important to remember the formulation by literary historians that stories basically present a conflict and a resolution, which, psychologically, may be essentially the same point. I discuss many of these matters in my new book, The American Short Story Handbook (2015), where I also differentiate among types of short narratives: tale, yarn, anecdote, parable, myth, and others. With the inception of Realism in the nineteenth century, however, another narrative pattern was added to the tradition: a structure based on internal cognitive growth or alteration. I discuss these matters at some length in the introduction to Anthology of the American Short Story (2008), and I give a related remark here.

73In Stephen Crane’s “An Episode of War,” a young officer has his arm amputated after he is shot while dividing coffee into two equal portions for the men. He does not see who shot him, and there is no military response. The plot does not rest on his fight with anyone. Rather, when he returns home his mother sees that his arm is missing and bursts into tears. He says, in the concluding line of the story, that it doesn’t matter as much as all that. This narrative line does not match either of the standard definitions of a story. Similarly, Ernest Hemingway built his stories on internal growth within characters, not on conflicts between them. In “Indian Camp,” for example, a young boy, Nick Adams, is taken by his father, an obstetrician, to a Native American shanty to perform a Caesarean delivery of a child. Dr. Adams has been fishing and has no medical equipment with him. He uses his skinning knife for the incision and a gut leader for the sutures. The surgery is thus done without anesthetic, and the woman screams throughout it. Dr. Adams tells his son, who is disturbed by it, that her pain does not matter. When the child is born, Dr. Adams celebrates a successful delivery. Then he sees that a man, presumably the father of the child, has committed suicide by slitting his throat in the nearby cot. Nick takes in the ghastly sight. In the conclusion, while they cross the lake again in a boat, Nick asks his father why the man killed himself. Dr. Adams says he does not know but that he guesses that he “couldn’t stand things” (19). Nick asks if dying is hard. Dr. Adams says he does not know.

74There are several important psychological issues here. The first is that the man is presumably so shocked by the pain his wife endures that he kills himself. He may also be humiliated that traditional tribal medicine is not adequate to save his wife and child, and that Dr. Adams, using European methods, is needed. In other Nick Adams stories, he often treats the local Chippewas, as did Hemingway’s father. The Native Americans portrayed in these stories are a people in cultural transition, resisting changes to their traditions and yet needing and accepting some aspects of White society. Those who come to get Dr. Adams come in a rowboat, an artifact of White culture, rather than in a canoe. Of course, the economic disparity between the two races is quite dramatic. There is no adequate explanation in the published story of why Dr. Adams would bring his son on a medical call certain to be ghastly at best. Manuscript research, however, reveals in a discarded opening that earlier Nick was alone in the darkness of the tent while his father and uncle were out fishing. He is terrified at being alone, so he fires an emergency three shots with the gun his father left out for him, and the two men come in from the lake. Dr. Adams realizes his son is afraid of the dark. At that moment the Indians arrive, requesting that Dr. Adams come to their village. He brings Nick along.

75Now, then, affect studies would have done nothing to provide that information, nor would any of the other recent theoretical approaches. Read as an artifact, there is no explanation in the story for Dr. Adams’s decision to bring his son along. In traditional scholarship there is, in the manuscript deletion, although such an interpretation rests on the complex assumption that deleted material can play a legitimate role in interpretive study. That is a complex, questionable proposition. My sense is that the story is best read both ways, especially in the classroom. There, in studying the Nick Adams group of stories, it is clear that Nick suffered emotional damage in “Indian Camp,” and he never sleeps well again and needs a light for the night. He is continuously concerned with death, which he saw at too early an age. The story also has a significant moment for Dr. Adams. Just as he is celebrating his great surgical achievement, his son asks him questions he cannot answer. Certainly the great doctor should be able to deal with the interrogatives of a young boy, but he cannot. He is quiet the rest of the journey. That psychological line is too often forgotten in Hemingway scholarship. In short, there is a good deal of internal drama in the story, but not along the lines of conflict and resolution, or goal and fulfillment.

76We face similar limitations when we read stories or cycles outside of important cultural contexts. My recent book Race and Culture in New Orleans Stories—which explores four story cycles, one each by Chopin, George Washington Cable, Grace King, and Alice Dunbar-Nelson—argues that without an understanding of the cultural traditions of French colonial Louisiana, it is impossible to fully grasp the issues of these stories. Of special importance are the Code Noir, the plaçage tradition of quadroon mistresses, the Spanish introduction of the slave contract, the French appreciation of social status by birthright, and the general issue of ethnicity in a society that had twelve gradations of privilege based on racial mixtures. People who do not know these things miss much in reading these four authors, and whatever feelings the stories provoke, the affect of the fiction, would be misguided if they are read as simply part of the American South.

3. Affect Theory as a Set of Tools for the Study of the Short Story

77Given the interest that theories of the short story and theories of affect share in what we could call the event (or the moment), does affect theory offer a set of tools particularly relevant to reading the short story? And does the short story offer a particularly productive illustrative capacity for thinking about the operation of affect? At the most basic level, does the shorter tale potentially offer a more productive opportunity to deal with, say, the moment of being (or the moment of insight, or the moment of time, or the epiphanic moment) as affective moment (or moment of transition from affect to emotion, or from affect to action)?


78WALLACE: I really like the emphasis here on what Woolf called “moments of being” or Joyce identified as “epiphany” (although I’m not convinced they are precisely the same affective experience, Woolf’s often running through a particularly gendered experience and Joyce’s inflected with religious and philosophical weight). However, I want to turn the question slightly differently to think about pedagogy and affect. What if we conceive of the pedagogical interaction itself as fundamentally affective along the lines of “moments of being”?

79As someone located at an undergraduate teaching-centered institution, I am interested to note when affect and short stories intersect in some rather specific and important ways. Take for instance Katherine Mansfield’s famous 1918 short story, “Bliss.” The story itself is about the difficulty of articulating an affective experience—one that displays itself in the body as Bertha searches for ways to name an embodied experience “as though you’d suddenly swallowed a bright piece of the afternoon sun and it burned in your bosom, sending out a little shower of sparks into every particle”—hampered by a sense that bodily display itself is inappropriate (or inappropriated?), that the body must be “shut up in a case like a rare, rare fiddle” (143). This story is overtly about affect—and about the difficulty of communicating affective experiences between persons, minds and bodies.

80At the level of the story’s content, the story can be read like an O. Henry “twist,” revealing that Bertha’s admiration for Pearl is not only shared by her husband, but that in fact he has preceded her in taking his attraction forward into an erotic relationship. But at the level of embodied “sympathy,” the story suggests that Bertha and Pearl are connected affectively, joined through their mutual gaze at the pear tree in the moonlight and reflected for the reader in color and dress (Bertha’s green, Pearl’s white/silver) and their general appearance. The pear tree in “Bliss” then suggests a more profound connection between the two women outside or beyond or before language. Language, in fact, repeatedly fails Bertha in the story.

81For student readers, reading carries affective import that is experienced as emotion, a personal experience that is also at the same time shared. Students attuned to lesbian erotic desire, for instance, tend to refuse the O. Henry-esque reading that the story seems to offer and feel the charged atmosphere emphasized through imagery, color, and language choices. Even more importantly, pedagogy is tied to constructing a shared affect in the classroom, so that what might be experienced as one’s proper emotions is articulated as belonging to the tale or to the work of analysis that is shared. Teaching is importantly linked to emotion, and as the activity that arguably most of us spend most of our time on, it seems ethically compulsory to ask about how we evoke, use, or allow affect to circulate in the classroom and how textual bodies “stick” to or even construe student bodies.

82HOGAN: In Affective Narratology, I have argued that pure causal analysis does not isolate events. Rather, events are a function of emotion system arousal applied to (experienced, simulated, or inferred) causal sequences. What gives us a sense that an event has begun or ended—or that a complex of events forming a story has begun or ended—is not a matter of causes and effects as such, since causes and effects precede any “beginning” and follow any “ending.” The sense of beginning and ending is, rather, a function of the arousal of our emotion systems.

83I doubt that short stories are special in their capacity to represent or illuminate events. Indeed, I illustrated my initial argument with a segment from a narrative that is far from being a short story—Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. However, it does seem to be the case that many short stories involve a particular sort of cognitive-emotional “twist.” Specifically, there is often an incident that serves to make the reader come to a realization shortly before the story ends. This moment of realization commonly involves both a cognitive reorganization of prior occurrences in the story and, crucially, a change in one’s emotional orientation toward those occurrences. This sort of thing is hardly confined to short stories (think of Oedipus the King). But the combination of cognitive and emotional change seems to be particularly characteristic of the short story, at least short stories of a certain kind.

84The obvious case of this is the Joycean epiphany. The idea applies straightforwardly to O. Henry as well. In “By Courier,” we learn at the end that the woman had strong evident reason for jealousy, but that her construal of the man’s behavior was misguided; crucially, this changes not only our understanding of both characters, but our emotional response to them. In “Jimmie Hayes and Muriel,” a brief incident at the end tells us that Jimmie was not a deserter, as we and his companions had imagined, but rather a hero. As such cases illustrate, the reader’s realization and emotional reorientation often parallel the realization and emotional reorientation of a character. This need not be the case. For example, in some of Joyce’s stories—“Eveline” comes to mind—there may be a sudden cognitive and emotional change in a character, but it is hardly the same change as the one that occurs in the reader.

85Sometimes the reorientation fostered by the incident is merely factual, and both the incident and its effects are easy to summarize. That tends to be the case in O. Henry. Sometimes the incident and its implications are sociological or psychological, as often occurs in Joyce. Cases of this sort are far more difficult to articulate and explain. Sometimes there is something more like a metaphysical element, and here too one struggles to express its singular impact.

86I think, for example, of Alice Munro’s “Dimensions,” from Too Much Happiness. Doree’s husband, Lloyd, murdered his and Doree’s children. He was subsequently institutionalized. At a certain point, Doree realizes that this murder, though it has of course separated the husband and wife, has also given them an ineradicable bond. Part of that bond is the result of emotion sharing. Indeed, while Lloyd killed the children, he is also the only one who can provide Doree any comfort for their loss. This partial emotional reorientation in the realization of the character prepares us for the conclusion of the story, with its incident reorienting the reader’s emotions. Specifically, the story ends when Dorree is going to visit Lloyd and there is an automobile accident. Remembering something Lloyd taught her, Doree—in a sort of variant of the familial separation and reunion narrative—saves the life of a young boy, then stays with him, waiting for the ambulance. What the reader is likely to understand differently is not the main story event itself (the murder), but the larger trajectory of its consequences, the larger story. What the reader is likely to feel differently about is also not the murder as such, but the overall life of the main characters and that of the people with whom they come into contact. Indeed, the point resonates beyond the confines of the storyworld.

87THRAILKILL: From Ian Watt to Nicholas Daly, critics have described the ways in which the novel is a literary form geared to the linear temporality of modern life. Watt described this as the depiction of “life by time” (he was quoting E. M. Forster). For Ian Watt, the novel’s formal cohesion lies in the concatenation of causes and effects, which in turn allows for the coordination of individual lives with collective histories.

88The question I address in this response specifies the association of narrative and temporality. When did clock-time—in the sense of minutes, and not just hours—make its arrival into the short story, and to what effect? Mechanical timepieces have existed for centuries, and at least since Edgar Allan Poe, clock-time references have played a role in short story narration. An early example is Poe’s hoax-story “The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Phall” (1835), which ticks off no fewer than 18 specific hours. The narrator, purportedly recording his journey into outer space in a hot air balloon, marks his progress this way: “At nine o’clock I had again lost sight of land” and “at six o’clock, I perceived a great portion of the earth’s visible area.” Time notation here adds an absurdist element of faux accuracy to a story making fun of scientific reports.

89My sense, however, is that significant reference to highly specified time does not appear until later in the nineteenth century, in the context of literary realism. Daly, writing about the Victorian novel, argues that clock-time begins to structure the sensation novel (and the fabric of English social and economic life) only after the advent of railway timetables and the widespread coordination of accurate timepieces. In the U.S., precise clock-time makes an early literary appearance in Ambrose Bierce’s collection of Civil War short stories, Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (1891). As Paul Juhasz has argued, “Bierce prefigures the fixation with time that would become such a significant theme for many modernist writers” (par. 3). Bierce’s brief story of a Union sniper’s deadly mission across enemy lines, “One of the Missing,” includes an ironic twist that depends on the precise 22-minute gap marked by 6:18 and 6:40.

90Before discussing Bierce’s story, however, I’d like to back up to situate this question historically. E. P. Thompson in his iconic essay “Time, Work-Discipline, and Modern Capital,” described a pre-modern “disregard for clock time” (59). Until the end of the 18th century, village clocks in England—notoriously, unproblematically inaccurate—had a single hand. What artisan needed to know by the minute when to finish a project; what farmer needed a minute hand to know when to sow or when to reap? Thompson lists an array of culturally distinct ways of marking time without calibrated time pieces:

In Madagascar time might be measured by “a rice-cooking” (about half an hour) or “the frying of a locust” (a moment)… while [in Europe] the cooking-time of an egg could be judged by an Ave Maria said aloud. (58)

91As Thompson describes it, pre-modern time revolves around “task-orientation,” with “the working day lengthen[ing] or contract[ing] according to the task” (60). Jesse Matz uses the term “real-world temporalities” to express this heterogeneity. Clock-time, by contrast, subsumes the diversity of time experiences into a one-way line marked by evenly-spaced minutes: it “collapses the temporal manifold, sets only a given pace, and thereby limits possibility” (Matz 274). For most pre-industrial laborers, “the work pattern was one of alternate bouts of intense labour and of idleness, wherever men were in control of their own working lives” (Thompson 73).

92Ironically, the orientation toward a task—along with the “alternate bouts” of respite and focused exertion—also marks the work of a soldier. Here is the perspective of a young recruit in Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage (1895): “There were moments of waiting. […] He was at a task. He was like a carpenter who has made many boxes, making still another box, only there was furious haste in his movements” (23). The kinship between the pre-modern work of carpentry and the work of modern warfare is doubly ironic. First, as a task-master, the military leaves its “workers” the least control over their lives, which are not just temporally constrained but also in mortal danger. Second, the Civil War—far from harking back to a pre-modern agrarian social structure—was a watershed moment for plunging the United States into technological modernity.

93Bierce’s “One of the Missing,” published just a few years before Crane’s Red Badge, explicitly plays with different ways of marking time. Taking as its central character an “incomparable marksman” in the Union army, the story pits the task-orientation of subjective experience—in which time stretches, shrinks, jumps, stands still—against a deterministic understanding of time as objective, linear, and inexorable. Private Jerome Searing, known for his pre-modern skill set (“his extraordinary daring, his woodcraft, his sharp eyes, and truthful tongue”), volunteers for a perilous task: sneaking past his own entrenched front-line soldiers to discover the position of the Confederate troops beyond. The narrative follows Jerome’s excruciating, slow motion trek and his reflections on his task: “‘It seems like a long time,’ he thought, ‘but I cannot have come very far; I am still alive.’ He smiled at his own method of measuring distance” (265). The marksman calibrates his experiential sense with objective ways of measuring space and time.

94In an abrupt shift, the narrative departs the marksman’s grounded perspective, zooming to something like a god’s point of view: “But it was decreed from the beginning of time that Private Searing was not to murder anybody that bright summer morning…. For countless ages events had been so matching themselves together in that wonderful mosaic to some parts of which, dimly discernible, we give the name of history.” Turning from description to exposition, the narrative condenses a vast swath of causes and effects into a long paragraph, followed by a sudden return to the present moment of the story and the explosion of a Confederate-launched shell. Jerome is pinned under a collapsed wooden structure, delirious with shock. Presently he steadies himself, once again calibrating his experience with an implied clock-time: “his term of unconsciousness… had probably not exceeded a few seconds, for the dust of the wreck had not wholly cleared away as he began an intelligent survey of the situation” (268).

95The story takes a surprising turn. In sensory terms that echo the intensity of Emily Dickinson’s “I heard a fly buzz when I died,” the narrative lyrically expresses the intense physical and psychological pain of the dying man: “The world had passed away—not a vestige remained. Here is immortality in time—each pain an everlasting life. The throbs tick off eternities” (272). Clock-time dissolves, for character and for the reader, in the pulsing body-time of profound subjective suffering.

96Yet a timepiece equipped with a minute hand appears in the story’s brief coda. Told from another point of view altogether—that of the marksman’s higher-ranked brother—the narrative unexpectedly shifts (back) to the moment the shell hit. Positioned at the line of battle his brother had crossed, Lieutenant Adrian Searing hears the “confused rumble” and “mechanically looked at his watch. Six o’clock and eighteen minutes” (273). The brother leads his troops forward, and they pass a corpse pinned beneath a wooden beam. Here is the last paragraph of the story: “‘Dead a week,’ said the officer curtly, moving on and absently pulling out his watch as if to verify his estimate of time. Six o’clock and forty minutes” (274).

97In pairing the two brothers, the story juxtaposes two ways of experiencing time. The officer’s more official perspective, tied “mechanically” and “absently” to clock-time, marks a double misrecognition: he misjudges the barely deceased body to be “dead a week,” and fails to recognize that the dead private is Jerome. For the reader, this combination of mistakes is disorienting and incoherent, almost to the point of illegibility: readers are often left puzzled and uncertain by the story’s end.

98By contrast, when tied to the perspective of Jerome Searing, the narrative’s temporal dislocations stage what Matz has called the “temporal diversity” that is flattened by a dependence on clock-time. “One of the Missing” displays the narrative resources of the short story, expanding to embrace a cosmic view and shrinking to the span of a last heartbeat. Jerome’s perceptions, with which the narrative unevenly overlaps, are discrepant with clock-time. To use Bierce’s terms for the man so good at hitting the mark, the story itself reveals a “sharp eye” and a “truthful tongue” in marking the alternate shifts and flows of time understood phenomenologically.

99Given this apparent valuing of temporal diversity, it’s fair to ask why the narrative shifts from the scene of dying to the ironies marked by Adrian Searing’s watch. Tied to the perspective of the clock, we learn that Jerome Searing’s final task on earth took just a little more than 22 minutes—roughly the time it takes the reader to finish “One of the Missing” in its entirety. The short story, as a literary form, has something in common with a pre-modern task orientation: though it’s hard to pin down its formal specifications in terms of precise length, characteristic themes, or distinctive affects, the short story is nonetheless keyed (as Poe famously observed) to the variable experiential frame of a single sitting.

100The short story as a narrative mode and form of entertainment, however, is also highly compatible with the pace of modernity and the limited allotments of leisure time—even the equivocal idleness produced by modern warfare. In The Great War and Modern Memory, Paul Fussell notes that the U.S. Civil War was the first “in which really large numbers of literate men fought as common soldiers” (157), many of whom brought reading material into the trenches.

101It’s worth returning briefly to Nicholas Daly’s argument about the literary complicity of nineteenth-century narrative forms and other powerful institutional structures associated with modernity: “the [sensation] novel,” he writes, “threatened to couple the reader to its mechanism.” By way of Bierce we might conclude that, at the turn of the twentieth-century, something a little different appears: a literary form (the short story) well suited to couple with the jumpy temporalities—not to mention the variable attention spans—associated with the “mechanism” of modernizing human minds and bodies.

102LYNCH (on Thrailkill): A brief response, only to say that I cannot think of a short story in which narrowing, funneling time—from seasons to days to times of day to hours to minutes—passes more oppressively than it does in Joyce’s “Araby.” Time there weighs on the unnamed adolescent narrator as heavily as does his repressive Irish-Catholic Dublin culture. At one particularly stressful point he is simply staring at the ticking clock, waiting for his drunken forgetful uncle’s return and his own release towards a precisely timed, crepuscular epiphany. Of course: “Araby” is a rite-of-passage/initiation story, and so essentially invested in the passage of time. But it was always already too late for Joyce’s boy.

4. Feeling-based Judgments of Literary Forms and Genres

103In Our Aesthetic Categories, Sianne Ngai highlights a connection between form and affect (or formal styles and feeling-based judgments) in categories such as the “zany,” the “cute,” and the “interesting.” Do literary forms and genres inherently attract their own particular brand of feeling-based judgments? Is the short story (or the short short story, or “microfiction,” or “nanofiction”), for example, cute? Is the short story cycle “interesting”? Is there something “zany” about the story made to perform the work of stand-alone text and contextual text? (The same story, for example, may appear in a cycle, in an author’s collected works, in a magazine issue, in an anthology, and alone. Might the short story, then, easily fall prey to a particular aesthetic judgment because of its flexibility and performance of multiple roles?) Are there other terms that might help us to understand our feeling-based judgments of literary forms and genres?


104HOGAN: This is a complex question, from which I would like to select out one small part—the bearing of interest. “Interest” has at least two distinct uses in relation to short stories. We might refer to these as “immersive” and “retrospective.” A story may be interesting in the sense that it sustains our engagement while reading or in the sense that it provokes our reflection and reconsideration after reading. Both rely on some degree of unexpectedness. Unexpectedness involves properties of the work and properties of the reader (which are to some degree shared, but to some degree idiosyncratic). Specifically, a story is unexpected to the extent that it does not fit the cognitive structures activated by the topic. For example, for me, both O. Henry’s “Christmas by Injunction” and Alice Munro’s “Dimensions” take up cognitive structures bearing on parent/child separation and reunion. However, they vary the structure considerably, thus in ways that provoke immersive interest. In addition to unexpectedness, a story is interesting to the extent that it activates emotion systems that motivate us to follow through the story. To some extent, this occurs simply through novelty alone. But often—and necessarily in those cases where we care about the outcome—other emotion systems, such as (empathic) attachment, are involved.

105One obvious feature of academic writing about literature is that it entails repeatedly revisiting literary works. One result of this is that academic scholarship tends to value works that sustain retrospective interest. This is often the case with works that turn on an incident involving sociological, psychological, or metaphysical reorientations in thought and emotion, particularly reorientations that are difficult to articulate. In contrast, works that rely on more readily explained factual realizations may be less retrospectively interesting. This is one reason why academics are (at least in my experience) likely to value Joyce or Munro above O. Henry. Indeed, the contrast extends beyond retrospective interest to the immersive interest of subsequent re-readings. Munro’s “Dimensions” and Joyce’s “Eveline” bear re-reading in light of the ending in a way that O. Henry’s stories often do not. Indeed, the somewhat elusive quality of the ending in the cases of Munro and Joyce may mean that our experience of that ending changes on subsequent re-readings—leading to further developments in our next experience of the text, and so on. Such a cyclical process seems far less likely to be the case with O. Henry.

106WALLACE (on Hogan): Hogan notes that “academic scholarship tends to value works that sustain retrospective interest,” and surmises that “works that rely on more readily explained factual realizations may be less retrospectively interesting,” pointing to academic neglect of the work of O. Henry. I think that O. Henry presents a curious case, not only because of his popularity. If it’s true that his stories do not call out for re-reading and deep reflection, they are nevertheless favorites for re-encountering in the sense of sharing with others or next generations. This urge to re-encounter includes a film realization of selected stories that is regularly re-broadcast. The very familiarity of stories like “Gift of the Magi” or “The Last Leaf” (dramatized in 1952 as part of the collection O. Henry’s Full House) and rehearsed repetition where the ending is foreseen and expected is indeed part of the pleasure. This seems a different kind of affective effect than short stories with more ambiguous endings that encourage different readings and different reading experiences as Hogan delineates. Perhaps part of the pleasure of O. Henry and O. Henriesque stories is that they seem to work more communally—even my students seem to know the plot twist of “Gift of the Magi”—so that it functions as a kind of shared cultural affect that can be used as a short-hand to refer to the feeling of other situations or to construct a sense of a shared experience.

5. The Feeling of Form

107Many theorists of affect have investigated the consequences and potential of less celebrated (or unpleasant or unpopular or uncomfortable) affects, feelings, and emotions. (See Ngai on “ugly feelings,” Sara Ahmed on unhappiness, Jonathan Flatley on melancholia, or various projects by Lauren Berlant, Jacques Rancière, and others.) Can we imagine happy or unhappy forms and genres (the short story as truncated novel, for example, or the cycle as a refusal of a perceived narrowness of focus in the novel)? Does affect theory allow a way to reimagine the feeling of form?


108MURISON: Perhaps the best-known statement about the relation of the novel form to happiness came from Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” (1). In this much-quoted opening line, Tolstoy makes a formal claim: the novel is about unhappy families. Nineteenth-century novels such as Anna Karenina, Bleak House, or Sister Carrie sprawl, exploring different unhappy families, and presumably different ways to be unhappy. If, as Sara Ahmed claims, happiness is “a form of world making” that “makes the world cohere around, as it were, the right people” (13), nineteenth-century novelists relentlessly show how, too often, happiness is wielded to enforce social expectations.

109There may be no novelist who better explored the oppressiveness of “happiness” than Henry James. If James’s novels explore varieties of unhappiness, I would contend that his short stories about novelists, particularly “The Lesson of the Master” and “The Figure in the Carpet,” explore the affective experience of being consumed by, finding an obsessive happiness in, such novels of unhappiness. Both of these stories are about novelists and their fans. The main characters of both are, to borrow a slang term, fanboys; they are consumed by and make life-changing decisions based on their objects of desire. In similar fashion, the female fan in “The Lesson of the Master” is quite literally named Marian Fancourt. James’s formal choice of the short story to explore cultural obsessiveness seems to indicate its diminutive status. Fandom rates a short story: intense but not substantive.

110But to turn the association of short with diminution on its head, the short story also allows James to consider how our love for long novels and their authors can concentrate and then curdle. In “The Figure in the Carpet,” the narrator begins the story besotted with the author Hugh Vereker, having just reviewed the novelist’s latest. When they meet at a country house, the narrator experiences a mixture of elation and pain. While he overhears Vereker dismiss his review of the novel, he also still measures himself by Vereker’s standard, even before Vereker challenges him to find the “figure in the carpet”—the trick that runs through all of his works. By the end of the story, having neither discovered the secret nor having wrested the secret from the friends who have discovered it, George Corvick and Gwendolyn Erme, the narrator’s appreciation of Vereker’s works has soured, so much so that the only pleasure he can extract is by sharing his unhappiness with Erme’s second husband, Drayton Deane. He tells Deane (after Erme’s death) that she never trusted him with this secret either: “I may say that to-day as victims of unappeased desire there isn’t a pin to choose between us. The poor man’s state is almost my consolation: there are really moments when I feel it to be quite my revenge” (313). If the narrator can no longer be content with enjoying Vereker’s novels, he now finds a perverse happiness in destroying others’ contentment.

111The short story form, as “The Figure in the Carpet” suggests, allows James to consider what perverse expectations of happiness readers bring to the consumption of novels. The form signifies how these affective pulses—between reader and author or between reader and book—sit on uneasy expectations that are undermined quickly and replaced by negative feelings of rage, discontentment, and revenge. The choice of the short story, then, is more than a relegation of cultural fandom to the unimportant; in fact, the diminutive is also the concentrated, a tight, constrained realm that nonetheless explains the psychological role of (to quote James again) those “large, loose baggy monsters, with their queer elements of the accidental and the arbitrary” (Preface to The Tragic Muse 1107). Perhaps the greatest formal irony of all is that the short story can, in this way, come to encompass the novel’s affective, queer realm, explaining its functions in deft and acute ways.

Section 2: The Short Story Cycle

6. The Independence of Individual Stories in a Cycle

112Forest Ingram defines the short story cycle as “a set of stories linked to each other in such a way as to maintain a balance between the individuality of each of the stories and the necessities of the larger unit” (15). Susan Garland Mann writes that “there is only one essential characteristic of the short story cycle: the stories are both self-sufficient and interrelated. On the one hand, the stories work independently of one another: the reader is capable of understanding each of them without going beyond the limits of the individual story. On the other hand, however, the stories work together, creating something that could not be achieved in a single story” (15).

113Both of these definitions preserve the independence of each short story in a cycle. Ingram refers to the “individuality of each” story. Mann insists on each story’s independence and individuality. Does this critical hedging shortchange the effects (and affects) of the cycle as cycle? Is excerpting a short story from its cycle (or releasing a single track from a song cycle, for another example)—regardless of whether the piece can “stand on its own”—always an act of affective disruption, interruption, subtraction? Short story cycles often seem to celebrate a capacity to transmit affect from one story to the next (and then to transmit a sort of cumulative affect to the reader). Based on this, should we rethink the common description of the cycle as a collection in which the stories can work both independently and in concert? Doesn’t the existence of the cycle indicate some insufficiency of its individual stories (at least in the face of the larger whole)?


114NAGEL: In an earlier response, Thrailkill discussed an intriguing concept related to the story cycle that she calls the “sequel.” In The Contemporary American Short-Story Cycle, I emphasize the interrelationships among such stories when in a single volume, either supplying motivation for action in a subsequent story or in giving the final consequences of actions given in an earlier story. For example, in Love Medicine, Louise Erdrich has Henry Sr. commit suicide by standing in front of a railroad train. No explanation is given in that story for such a ghastly event. However, in the surrounding stories it is evident that his wife, Lulu, has had several children by other men while married to Henry. His humiliation, his sense of betrayal, his constant reminder in his interactions with his children that they are not his own would provide a motivation for taking his own life. In “Accident,” part of Susan Minot’s Monkeys, Mum is also killed by a passing train, one that comes behind her house at the same time each day. Mum has an unfulfilling relationship with Dad and enters into an affair with Mr. Kittredge, whom she seems to love desperately. Baby Minnie would seem to have been fathered by Kittredge. After she sees him with a beautiful young blonde, she commits suicide. The motivation, and the consequences, of the suicide come in other stories. That is often the case in the story cycle.

115LYNCH: Well (to answer the concluding question—“Doesn’t the existence of the cycle indicate some insufficiency of its individual stories?”—conclusively), no. Canadian author Duncan Campbell Scott published the first modern short story cycle in English, In the Village of Viger, in 1896 (if in the same year as American Sarah Orne Jewett’s The Country of the Pointed Firs). Throughout his life Scott refused all requests to publish any of its stories separately. There are many reasons why Viger should be experienced only as an artistic whole, and they are true of all great short story cycles (Joyce’s Dubliners, Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, Alice Munro’s Who Do You Think You Are?, etc.). Most obviously each story gains meaning in the context of the whole cycle, which does not imply any lack as a discrete story but rather highlights the advantage of the story cycle form. Moreover, a true cycle’s first and last stories are best understood in those key positions; and thus the aptness of cycle: the cyclical work begins and ends this way, then begins again. The stories of a cycle, like plucked guitar strings responding to others of its strings, gain much distinctively in resonating not only within the whole cycle but from proximity to—in relation to—the other stories, individually and collectively, whatever their place in the cycle. Not least, the integrity of the whole cycle as conceived by its author—the work of literary art—“dead” or otherwise, should be respected and maintained (which is not to say that the whole should not be sampled in anthologies, only that the complete work should always be made known as the primary context).

116Forest Ingram was indeed the first critic to recognize the strong emergence of this new genre in the twentieth century (though Frank O’Connor had seen something like it shaping up in Turgenev’s A Sportsman’s Sketches). I would revise the categorizing aspect of Ingram’s pioneering work somewhat (and have done so elsewhere, particularly with respect to his classifying of cycles in terms of how they were composed), but his recognition of the essential idea of the short story cycle remains the most reliable starting point. Story cycles are defined by the corresponding relationships of equality among each complete story within the context of the whole cycle. That essential idea of the short story cycle illustrates the meanings to be unpacked from what hyper-rationalist critics tried and failed to dismiss as the hermeneutic circle. The short story itself is first and sometimes finally defined as a story that is short (as per Poe), and the short story cycle is dependent upon the reciprocal relations among stories and the whole they create.

117NAGEL (on Lynch): The modern story cycles Lynch cites—In the Village of Viger and The Country of Pointed Firs—are worthy books, to be sure, but we should note that there were, in fact, numerous texts published in America prior to 1896 that qualify as story cycles, as I chart out in some detail in The Contemporary American Short-Story Cycle. A few volumes deserve mention: Augustus Baldwin Longstreet, Georgia Scenes (1835), Eliza Buckminster Lee, Sketches of a New England Village, in the Last Century (1838), Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sam Lawson’s Oldtown Fireside Stories (1871), George Washington Cable, Old Creole Days (1879), Grace King, Balcony Stories (1892), Kate Chopin, Bayou Folk (1894), and Hamlin Garland, Main-Travelled Roads (1891).

118LYNCH (on Nagel and Lynch): It is true that there were certainly books that looked like cycles before Scott’s and Jewett’s. (I’ve often traced that history myself.) In fact, there were two important Canadian texts, the McCulloch mentioned, serialized beginning in 1823, and Thomas Chandler Haliburton’s first series of The Clockmaker (which introduced Yankee Sam Slick to the world in 1836). But in claiming a “first” for Scott (and less so for Jewett), I am thinking particularly of a form of short story that in both style and substance we’ve come to understand as “Modern,” as in the Modern Period beginning about 1913 (with Pound’s “Imagist Manifesto”), stories that in a less ornamental prose style, a “plainer style,” and even in expressing a modern anxiety about what was happening in the rapidly changing world, look more like what Joyce and Hemingway would soon write than what Haliburton or Poe or Hawthorne or any of the great American nineteenth century short story writers were writing or, and most relevantly, composing in books as short story cycles. Perhaps too I am working from a more exclusive definition of “short story cycle.”

119MURISON (on Lynch, Thrailkill, and Wallace): Reading through our various responses to questions posed about the relation of short stories to affect, I could not help but recall the ever-present voice on the London metro: “Mind the gap.” What many of the responses seem to come back to is how the short story form, in its divergent varieties, “is good at,” as Thrailkill puts it, “leveraging gaps.” Thrailkill notes the temporal gaps between Crane’s connected stories, Red Badge of Courage and “The Veteran,” and Chopin’s “At the ‘Cadian Ball” and “The Storm,” describing how a virtual novel fits into their interstices. In describing the short story cycle, Lynch writes that the “stories of a cycle, like plucked guitar strings responding to others of its strings, gain much distinctively in resonating not only within the whole cycle but from proximity to—in relation to—the other stories, individually and collectively, whatever their place in the cycle.” Lynch’s metaphor is particularly suggestive in that the gaps between strings resonate, creating the music. Resonances between gaps are as much a part of the internal structure of the short story as between stories in a cycle. From their beginnings in the eighteenth century (as Wallace reminds us) through the tales of the nineteenth (including Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” which I discuss), short stories often depended on frame narratives, in other words, on internal gaps. The formally slight but significantly meaningful gaps between narrative perspectives within a story produce what we might call affective effects in that they prompt but are not reducible to the emotions or feelings within the narrative voice, the plot, or the character’s psychological states. Short stories resonate and vibrate with affect.

120To “mind the gap” is therefore to consider the stakes of affect in the short story form. The phrase is equally powerful because of its insistence on “minding” the gap. While this, needless to say, means to attend to the gap, as I point out above, it also occurs to me that it names one of the risks of writing about affect in the first place: filling it with mind rather than body. If affect is, as theorists like Teresa Brennan and Brian Massumi insist, a pre-discursive disposition of the body, one that occurs on the “lower frequencies” (to borrow Ralph Ellison’s wording), then there exists a fundamental mismatch—a gap—between literature and affect. Literature is, of course, textual and discursive. But what makes our exchange about the short story and affect helpful is that the gaps in the stories reflect, unconsciously to be sure, the gaps between affective worlds and our linguistic rendering of them. I wager, after reading the responses in this forum, that the form of the short story (and not just the emotional representations in them) can guide scholars to more fine-grained and resonate explanations of that intersection of text and affect that has posed difficult theoretical problems since the “affective turn” in literary study.

7. Coming to Terms with the Cycle

121When do we know that a group of stories is a cycle? Does this understanding strictly emerge at the author’s paratextual behest—in a title or subtitle, for instance? Does the cycle depend upon or seek to predate knowledge of its category? Lauro Zavala and others write of the “flexible strategies of interpretation” required of readers put in the position of having to “come to terms with the diversity of textual forms that surpass the traditional literary norms,” (284) including hybrid forms like the cycle. When and how does this coming to terms operate? Do readers “come to terms” with the cycle while progressing through it? Do we experience this transition, pre-cognitively—before we recognize it?

122Many affect theorists understand the difference between affect and terms like feeling and emotion as the difference between a pre-cognitive, biological operation (affect) and a recognizable, describable feeling. Is the cycle affective before it is recognizable?


123NAGEL: The term “cycle” assumes a work’s relationship to other such works surrounding it, as in the ancient cyclical plays presented in Greece, the cyclic poets of Homer’s day, the medieval mystery cycles, and the long history of story cycles published in France and, later, in America. A story could be judged to be part of a cycle if it has an important relationship to the other tales in the volume in which it was published, a continuing setting (as in Winesburg, Ohio, Friendship Village, The Goodness of St. Rocque and Other Stories, Main-Travelled Roads, Old Creole Days, Tales of Whilomville or The Country of the Pointed Firs or Deephaven), characters who appear in multiple stories (as in Love Medicine, Annie John, The Joy Luck Club, In Our Time, Bayou Folk, Stones for Ibarra), a unifying developing theme (as in The Things They Carried, Balcony Stories, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, The Bowery Tales, The Pastures of Heaven), or all of these things (as in Monkeys, How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents, or The Beet Queen). The genre was not rare, as some scholars assume, nor did it originate with Dubliners nor In Our Time, despite the reviews that accompanied the publications of these volumes. There were well over a hundred such collections published in America before Hemingway was born, and there have been more than a hundred each decade of the late twentieth century. Virtually every issue of The New York Times Book Review features a “novel in stories” or a book that is “almost a novel” or a collection of stories with a recurring central character. The reviewers are not scholars, and they are innocent of literary history and the rather extensive critical commentary on the form of the story cycle.

124LYNCH: More often than not, genre theory is a muddled mess, ranging from the categorizingly inane to airless abstraction. In such matters, I am most reliably guided by Alistair Fowler’s (perhaps) too sensible notion of genre as “family resemblance” among works (41). As for readers knowing when they are reading a short story cycle, I would put it this way: readers soon know when they are reading a book of short stories that is more than a miscellaneous collection yet clearly not a novel; Dubliners is not only an obviously different reading experience from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man but also different from reading such a collection of stories as Alice Munro’s Dance of the Happy Shades. The stories in books such as Dubliners do both stand on their own and do accrete to represent a more meaningful whole that, in turn, does enlarge the meaning of each discrete story. (The first is what Ingram meant by “the [story cycle’s] dynamic patterns of recurrence and development,” 20.) Coherence in such books of related stories—story cycles—can be achieved weakly, as in a frame narrative, a thematic similarity, or a distinctive style, or coherence can be achieved strongly through shared setting (Dubliners, Winesburg), through intensive focus on the same character (for example, Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women), or through recurrent narrators and characters (for example, British writer Kate Atkinson’s Not the End of the World). Such collections we call short story cycles. Someone (Eliot? Frye?) said that every new work of literary art trains its readers. I think the same might be said largely of the comparatively new genre of the short story cycle and its readers (and confused reviewers, as per Nagel’s remarks preceding). Readers who encounter a story cycle for the first time find themselves in deceptively familiar territory (Oh, a book of short stories), are soon de-familiarized (Oh, this story is strangely like the last one), then ultimately re-familiarized (Oh, I see how it works, sort of like a book of stories, sort of like a novel), and more (Oh …).

125HOGAN (on Lynch): Professor Lynch shares Fowler’s quality of being sensible (though I would demure from the view that either is “too sensible”). In consequence, I do not wish to take anything away from his emphasis on the value of story cycles. However, I would like to extend the general point to other forms of coherence, most importantly bodies of work by a single author that are not designed as story collections. These too may cohere “strongly” or “weakly” and with these too each new story may train the reader in understanding and responding to other stories. Indeed, the point applies to historical and cultural periods as well—up to and including even universal patterns.

126But let us stick for the moment to authors—and even a single author, Rabindranath Tagore. Tagore was one of the greatest figures in Bengali short story writing. With each story we gain a greater sense of just what is at stake for the children and women whose mistreatment concerns him. Specifically, the reader of many Tagore stories may begin to recognize that, for Tagore, perhaps the most deeply painful form of oppression involves the destruction of attachment bonds. In keeping with this, insensitivity to attachment bonds often enables our ordinary complicity with oppression; thus a key form of ethical practice involves cultivating attachment sensitivity. A reader who becomes attuned to this pattern from some of the simpler stories may respond much more fully to a complex work, such as “Āpad.” In that story, a young woman lies on behalf of an adolescent thief, evidently treating this as a moral obligation, even though the boy himself has disappeared and the lie will have no consequences for him. The title appears to suggest that this deception is a case of āpaddharma. (Āpaddharma is “a practice only allowable in time of distress” [Monier-Williams 143], thus a form of moral behavior that occurs in exceptional circumstances.)

8. Making Affective Sense of the Past, Present, and Future

127Jeff Birkenstein writes that readers of the short story cycle “quite naturally […] make connections, see patterns, impose order and meaning retroactively, and begin to anticipate themes and possibilities to come” (498). Does the short story cycle, then, speak to the ways we make affective sense of the past, present, and future? Some affect theorists differentiate between affect and emotion by seeing emotion as historical—as “the combination of an affect with our memory of previous experiences of that affect” (Nathanson 131). (Nathanson suggests, along those lines, that “affect is biology, whereas emotion is biography.”) Does the short story cycle have the potential to create an emotional history for its readers?


128WALLACE: Sara Ahmed writes that

Feminist philosophers [like Alison Jagger] have shown us how the subordination of emotions also works to subordinate the feminine and the body […]. Emotions are associated with women, who are represented as “closer” to nature, ruled by appetite, and less able to transcend the body through thought, will and judgment. (Cultural Politics of Emotions, 3)

129It is then no accident that some branches of affect studies have developed out of feminist, critical race, and queer theorizing, but that very history makes me suspicious of Nathanson’s distinction between emotion as historical and affect as biological. The biological too has a history—and in fact a culture, and affect studies, in some veins, risks a kind of bloodless abstraction that flattens differences of embodiment, language, etc. even by turning to consideration of cognition, endocrinology, etc. That history, in fact, has been the subject of feminist and race-sensitive critiques of science for some time, so the turn to biology, sometimes cognition, or neuropsychology may raise as many questions as it purports to answer (see Gross, Secret History of Emotion).

130It’s interesting that while the turn from “emotion” to “affect” is in part an effort to move beyond character or reader, we tend to come back to feeling as though emotions need a location—in a reader, in a mind, in an embodied response, in a social situation. While Nathanson’s distinction seems initially helpful, I’d resist making such a strong break along these lines. First, coming from older literary and cultural traditions, I want to suggest that there is something useful in older and quite flexible concepts such as “sympathy” (Adam Smith’s Moral Sentiments or David Hume’s Dissertation on the Passions), which seems implicitly tied to embodiment, or “emotion” in the sense of something that is fundamentally about movement. Like Ann Cvetkovich, who summarizes the “affective turn” as relying on a distinction between affect as “precognitive sensory experience” and emotion as “cultural constructs and conscious processes that emerge from them” (4), I find “affect” more useful when it is more inclusive or even better, terms like “feeling” or “emotion” not as naming specific properties belonging to one subject, but as naming something that seems shared, tied to embodiment, but also located in a particular moment or history or cultural location.

131Blushing, for example, has a long history of signifying the place where interior psychic subjectivity, corporeal and biological response, and socio-cultural context intersect to write their effects in blood flow, heat, color—that may or may not be legible to observers (and thus seems to invite the interventions of scientific measurement while also exceeding that gaze, see Crozier). In that case, it seems the history of emotion (shame, desire, disgust, recognition) intersects directly with biological response. To distinguish affect is sometimes oddly to disembody it—something that some versions of affect theory do, but that other versions seek to reinvigorate and resist.

132So to return to the question, one thing to keep in mind about short story “cycles” or even collections is that they are curiously embodied in the sense that certain elements are repeated, reiterated—read silently the eye fixes and notes them, read aloud they take on a sonorous sensation. It is in the reiteration of words, settings, names, and the differences among those repetitions that they invoke a kind of recognition that ascribes affective content to them.

9. Creating New Feelings or New Ways to Feel

133At the most basic level, does the short story cycle—in general—imagine a capacity to create new feelings or to create feelings in a new way? Does the cycle imply a shortcoming in the abilities of the novel or the short story collection to represent or produce feeling?


134LYNCH: Even if my proposed system of categorizing story cycles according to what contributes most to their coherence—place/setting or/and character—takes us further than does a system that must often speculate on the principles that governed the cycle’s composition (Ingram’s), categorizing by setting and character still risks compromising the spirit of the short story cycle. Something troubling persists in the recourse to recurrent setting and character (let alone a constituent theme, a consistent style or tone, or a clever device). Such an approach risks assessing story cycles as failed novels—the very thing to be avoided with this historically recent genre. It is the novel, from Samuel Richardson’s Pamela to Ian McEwan’s Atonement, that presents a continuous narrative of character, place, theme, and style. The short stories of a cycle, because they still come rapidly to focus on climactic events, continue to be distinguished for their relative concision. Even the most tightly unified story cycles will lack the traditional novel’s chief advantage as a completed action, as temporally continuous, and as couched in a totalizing narrative design. There is something essential to short stories that is decidedly un- or even anti-novelistic, an aesthetic (as Poe postulated at the genre’s inception) that is closer to lyric poetry—the illuminating flash of a revelatory event rather than the steadily growing light of causal relation. A series of flashes (slow flashes, as it were) will never a steady beam make. The sequence that is a story cycle signals a different code: recognizing and representing a place and understanding a character as seen by stroboscope, held still momentarily, in still flashes of revelatory/epiphanic insight, strangely fragmented into kaleidoscopic arrangements, continually unfolding unfamiliarly in the minds of readers accustomed to the slower pace, still panorama, and single perspective of traditional novels.

135The story cycle is peculiarly different for the ways in which its form also enables an exploration of the paradoxical failure of place and character to unify a modern vision that remains tantalizingly whole yet fundamentally suspicious of coherence and completeness, and of the meaningfulness that wholeness and closure entail. Perhaps this suspiciously neat paradox can be clarified in terms of the outer and inner dynamics of the short story cycle, as those concepts are deployed generally by genre theorists René Wellek and Austin Warren. By way of illustration, Viger (the titular setting of Scott’s early story cycle), the fictional place, represents the outer dynamic that obviously gives coherence and unity to the story cycle, while Viger as the figure of Scott’s vision of disintegrating small-town North America at the turn of the twentieth century represents the inner principle of a fragmenting metropolitan modernity that destabilizes the lives of Viger’s residents/characters. To take one more example, this time from the second major category of story cycle types, those of character: in similar manner the character Rose does not satisfyingly unify Munro’s Who Do You Think You Are? That story cycle is also about the possibility/impossibility of essential (female) selfhood and character–how they are formed and represented, how identity may only ever be provisionally achieved–as entities in both fiction and, by realistic projection, life. Rose is both the fictional figure of the destabilized self, a form of inner principle threatening ideas of coherent personality, and Rose is the recurrent character who knits up the stories, the outer dynamic confirming readers’ expectations of character development in a bildungsroman.

136Often each story of a cycle explores such problems of (dis)continuity and (in)coherence, only to defer solution to the next story in the cycle (Ingram’s “recurrence” principle), whose conflict both repeats and cumulatively advances those of its predecessors (Ingram’s “development”), until readers reach the final story of the cycle, which returns them to the preceding stories in the context of the whole cycle. Thus the short story cycle can indeed be seen as another form of Modern anti-novel, fragmenting the continuous narrative’s treatment of place, character, event, and time, while providing multiple perspectives on its subjects in a manner that suggestively parallels cubist aesthetics.

137I don’t think much, if any, of the foregoing responds to question 9’s perfectly appropriate wondering about the story cycle’s ability to “create feelings in a new way” or “to represent or produce feeling.” But that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

138WALLACE (on Lynch): Lynch writes suggestively that “There is something essential to short stories that is decidedly un- or even anti-novelistic, an aesthetic […] that is closer to lyric poetry […] recognizing and representing a place and understanding a character as seen by stroboscope, held still momentarily, in still flashes of epiphanic insight, strangely fragmented into kaleidoscopic arrangements, unfolding unfamiliarly in the minds of readers accustomed to the pace and panorama of novels.” Part of what I think Lynch is pointing to is that where the novel (particularly the bildungsroman form) constructs sense of self as made over time, short story or short story cycles seem in some ways to capture the fragmented nature of the experience of selfhood. My question is whether this is a representational aesthetic strategy that mirrors a changed and changing sense of “self” or “subject,” or whether as some critics have argued (Deidre Lynch’s Economy of Character comes to mind), the novel itself as a genre helped to create a particular experience of interior self as “character” under a particular socio-economic regime? In that case, are we perhaps pointing to the short story (that is, the modernist short story) as likewise contributing to construct a more fragmented, epiphanic sense of self and of character under a changed socio-economic and political regime? A “novel” like James Joyce’s Ulysses or Virginia Woolf’s The Waves could in this frame also be read as likewise contributing to that fragmented, “kaleidoscopic arrangement” that Lynch suggests “unfold[s] unfamiliarly in the minds of readers accustomed to the pace and panorama of novels.” Perhaps the “novel” we have in mind here is more akin to the high realist nineteenth-century novel, rather than some of the early twentieth-century experiments


139SECTION EDITORS: A shortage of space necessitates what will inevitably feel like an abrupt end to the conversation. Our thanks to the contributors for a wide-ranging and useful series of discussions.


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« Roundtable: Affect, the Short Story, and the Cycle », Journal of the Short Story in English, 66 | 2016, 163-213.

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« Roundtable: Affect, the Short Story, and the Cycle », Journal of the Short Story in English [En ligne], 66 | Spring 2016, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2018, consulté le 19 septembre 2020. URL :

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