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General Foreword

Gérald Préher, Xavier Le Brun et Michelle Ryan-Sautour
p. 13-17

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1This issue of the Journal of the Short Story in English is a double-volume featuring a special and a general section. The articles included in the special section, “Region, Environment, and Community in American Literary Short Forms,” were selected by our colleague Ina Bergmann. They were meant, like the rest of this issue in fact, to honor the work and career of Jochen Achilles, who has actively promoted short story criticism and the short story as a genre—as the bibliography appended to Bergmann’s introduction amply demonstrates—and whose implication in the ENSFR (European Network for Short Fiction Research) proved both momentous and lasting. Jochen has been a key member of the ENSFR steering committee since its creation in 2014 and has played a pivotal role in expanding the network and coordinating its activities with other international organizations dedicated to short story research. This opening section, which includes six contributions, shows that region as a concept inextricably relates to both environment and community and may often be approached in broader discussions about climate and the protection of nature—writers that include Annie Dillard, Barry Lopez or Rick Bass come to mind. Because American literary short forms have commonly explored questions of nature, place, and belonging, the opposition between city and civilization, on the one hand, and the countryside or the wilderness on the other, has necessarily been a central concern since the publication of classics such as Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” (1819/1820), Lydia Maria Child’s “The Church in the Wilderness” (1828), George Washington Cable’s “Jean-Ah Poquelin” (1875), or Kate Chopin’s “Désirée’s Baby” (1893). The contributors either scrutinize classics (by Sarah Orne Jewett and Charles W. Chestnutt) or lesser known stories from famous authors (Jack London, Zora Neale Hurston); one of the essays analyzes a different form of short fiction, very short plays, while Jochen Achilles presents us with a response to the previous contributions together with possible and invaluable directions for further exploration.

2The general section features eight articles and covers a wide range of authors and themes, some echoing the special section with their focus on particular places and atmospheres. Ryan David Furlong in “A ‘Secular’ Covenant: Mosaic Covenantal Theology and the Jewish Working-Class in Abraham Cahan’s ‘A Ghetto Wedding’” focuses on the last story in Cahan’s 1898 collection The Imported Bridegroom and Other Stories of the New York Ghetto. Furlong contends that even if scholars of Cahan’s fiction have been interested in the way Cahan depicts Jewish marriage, “A Ghetto Wedding” and its Jewish covenantal theology has not received much attention. According to Furlong, a Mosaic covenant marriage unites the characters (Nathan and Goldy) of Cahan’s story to their religious and cultural past, framing their pursuit of an expensive wedding under fin de siècle capitalism. The ideological covenant with U.S. capitalism which is hinted at here neither secures economic freedom nor social liberation as the newlyweds’ tragic fate illustrates.

3In “At ‘home’ in Panama”: Space and Spatial Politics in the Short Stories of Eric Walrond and Carlos ‘Cubena’ Guillermo Wilson,” Sharon Michelle Babb looks at the representation of black West Indians in post-construction Panama through selected stories by Eric Walrond and Carlos “Cubena” Guillermo Wilson. In their works, both authors dramatize the plight of West Indians who migrated to Panama and settled there after the opening of the canal. Starting out with the ambiguous nature of the word “home” for migrants and their descendants within a host country that is not always hospitable, Babb goes on to show that migrants are assigned particular locations within Panamanian society—an assessment which leads her to explore the politics of space delineated in Walrond and Wilson’s stories. This comparative reading uncovers responses found in both authors’ work that can be attributed not only to their shared Panamanian connections but also to the differences in style and, more broadly, to generational concerns. Both writers create narrative voices that refuse to be silenced and depict the violence and dire poverty attending the characters in the stories.

4Yuhui Bao and Ian Dennis also present a comparative study in “Marriages, Mirrors and ‘Equivocal Contrasts’ in Stories by Eileen Chang and Alice Munro.” Their contribution analyzes Eileen Chang’s “Love in a Fallen City” (1943) and Alice Munro’s “Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage” (2001), stories that share an unusual marriage plot. Bao and Dennis argue that both stories make extended use of mirror imagery, offering insights into Girardian mimetic desire. Chang and Munro also thwart or redirect what William Flesch has called “comeuppance,” especially the comeuppance that realism delivers to romantic desire. Ultimately, both their stories seem to endorse Chang’s notion of “equivocal contrast” as the operative principle of effective fiction. As Bao and Dennis explain, “[t]he equivocal contrast . . . is not simply between cause and effect, but between the legendary and the ordinary, between those who create fictions for themselves, or are the creations of the fictions of others.”

5Also interested in Alice Munro, Stephen Bernstein in “Love and Discipline in Alice Munro’s ‘Amundsen,’” notes that previous criticism has tended to treat “Amundsen” (from Munro’s 2012 Dear Life collection) as a love narrative formally organized by traditional archetypes. Taking a different stand, Bernstein approaches the story through its geographical and historical specifics, locating it not only within the Ontario of the 1940s, but also within the history of tuberculosis treatment and its attendant institutions. Through a careful analysis of the story’s texture, Bernstein convincingly argues that “Amundsen” should also be read as the history of a trauma, which leaves its narrator hollow, detached, and unable to learn from bitter experience.

6Hollie Adams’s “Dad Must Do What Dad Must Do: White Masculinity and the American Dream in George Saunders’s Short Fiction,” argues that Saunders’s concern with white masculinity is a central, though overlooked, component of his satirical project. Using various theories about manhood, masculinity and Americanness, Adams relates Saunders’s critique of the American dream to his constructions of traditional masculinity observing that, for him, that dream speaks to men who identify as white. In his fiction, Saunders calls attention to the ramifications facing a society that still believes in the promise of such mythos: he demonstrates that because some men feel that their manhood is being called into question, they are convinced of the need to reassert their masculinity in the form of physical violence—a violence that is mirrored in the very stories Adams has selected.

7Simon Workman then takes us to Ireland in “There Are Darker Kingdoms: Mapping Modernity in Kevin Barry’s Short Fiction.” He focuses on Barry’s two collections There are Little Kingdoms (2007) and Dark Lies the Island (2011) “as exemplary of the agility and elasticity that the short story genre has displayed in responding to Ireland’s changing socio-economic dispensation in recent decades”—considerations that echo Bernard Cardin’s introductory comments to JSSE 63. Barry’s fiction exploits, as Workman demonstrates, the formal opportunities afforded by the short story form to explore the complex causes and contexts of modernization in Ireland while also reflecting upon modernity in a wide array of its possible manifestations and meanings. For Barry, this often means intermixing what Workman analyzes as a naturalist aesthetic with an interest in the myths and folkloric traditions of Ireland. Resorting to the fantastic and tapping into Celtic legends as readily as he engages into postmodern textual strategies, Barry is able to call into question “the neoliberal consensus that emerged during Ireland’s Celtic Tiger experiment” while also acknowledging “the greater plurality of identity and cultural expression that have emerged in the new millennium.”

8In “Texting a Spinoff: Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s Hybrid ‘Little Women,’” Beverly Lyon Clark offers us a stimulating reading of Daniel Mallory Ortberg’s “Little Women” (2014), a narrative which is not only an adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s classic story but also a parody, a spinoff, and a short story. Clark shows that any of the aforementioned categories can be called into question, making Mallory’s work effectively enact hybridity as it is comprised of a series of text messages, which are reminiscent of the dialogues of drama, and as it queries the relationship between intimacy and distance while also leading us to reflect upon the nature of thingness.

9Karima Thomas, in the last contribution of this section, “Adolescent Sexuality: Between Discourses of Risk and Resistance,” takes a look at Michael Cart’s edited collection Sex and Love (2003). Following Michel Foucault’s definition of sexuality as a discourse that produces and manages sexuality, Thomas analyses the narrative strategies brought into play to represent discourses around sexuality. Such discourses reveal a cultural imaginary that conceives of sexuality as both enticing and dangerous. The short stories that have been selected underline this dual aspect though they depict adolescents who question it. The inherent liminality of the short story appears as conducive to the representation of such moments of questioning for the narrative and epistemological economy of the genre makes it possible to inscribe a suspension of conclusion that reflects an adolescent’s condition of psychological liminality.

10This double issue also features a newly discovered story by Edith Wharton, “La Famille,” which is presented here in its original French version and in an English translation. Sarah Whitehead discovered the text in the Edith Wharton Collection (Yale Collection of American Literature) at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. We are grateful she thought of JSSE to make the story available to short story lovers and specialists. Readers will also be pleased to find a new story by American writer Lisa Alther, “The Golden Tower,” with comments by the author on the origin of this funny little charm. In JSSE 67, Alther commented that, to her, writing is a means to sort out the real: “writers [are] not just writing to tell a story and to entertain themselves or to entertain us. They [are] using fiction as a way to try to make sense of the world around them.” For that reason, she goes on to explain that “since there was so much in the world around me I didn’t understand I thought I would give it a try.” The story included here is another illustration of Alther’s search for meaning in the sometimes chaotic world we live in and it will certainly entertain its readers.

11We are happy to include the reviews of two important studies: Michael Basseler’s An Organon of Life Knowledge: Genres and Functions of the Short Story in North America (by Jorge Sacido-Romero) and Chris Mourant’s Katherine Mansfield and Periodical Culture (Ailsa Cox). Readers of JSSE will rediscover Basseler’s article on Fitzgerald’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” (JSSE 64) in a whole new context that provides new food for thoughts.

12The editorial board would like to thank all the contributors and all the readers for their submissions and continuous support. We are especially thankful to Aurélie Reuillon for her useful and much-appreciated assistance.

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Gérald Préher, Xavier Le Brun et Michelle Ryan-Sautour, « General Foreword »Journal of the Short Story in English, 73 | 2019, 13-17.

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Gérald Préher, Xavier Le Brun et Michelle Ryan-Sautour, « General Foreword »Journal of the Short Story in English [En ligne], 73 | Autumn 2019, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2021, consulté le 17 juin 2024. URL :

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Gérald Préher

Lille Catholic University, JSSE Editor

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Xavier Le Brun

University of Angers, JSSE Associate Editor

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Michelle Ryan-Sautour

University of Angers, ENSFR Director

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