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Laurent Lepaludier et Michelle Ryan-Sautour

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1This issue of the JSSE is a collection of papers given at the International Symposium on Theatricality in the Short Story at the University of Angers (Novembre 30th and December 1st, 2007). These papers have been selected by the JSSE reading committee. The symposium, which convened nineteen speakers from various universities, was organised by the CRILA. It followed a previous CRILA symposium on orality in the short story. Both conferences had been prepared by two years of research and seminars each.

2The guest of honour of the conference on theatricality in the short story was Helen Simpson, a British short story writer, who read “The Tipping Point,” a short story she had recently written and read on the BBC. Her story is included with her permission in this issue.

3Another highlight of the conference was the performance of a short story by students from the English department of the University of Angers under the direction of Susan Harloe, artistic director of the San Francisco theatre company “Word for Word”, a company which specialises in the staging of short stories.

4The articles come under three main headings: after two papers with a general focus on the question of theatricality in the short story, another section is devoted to pre-modernist and modernist short story writers (English, Irish and American); a last section is concerned with contemporary short story writers (English and Canadian).

5In an article entitled “Theatricality in the Short Story: Staging the Word”, Laurent Lepaludier (CRILA, University of Angers) makes a clear distinction between the short story and the theatre but raises a number of questions about a genre which mixes the narrative and the dramatic modes. The article examines what compares with the theatre in the short story and the devices used by the short story to mimic the theatre. If the nature of a short story is not theatrical, strictly speaking, effects of theatricality can often be identified and studied. The power of a theatrical short story resides precisely in the combination of its narrative and theatrical modes.

6In “Chekhov’s Legacy: The Influence of the Implicit and the Dramatic Effect”, Jacqueline Phillips (Edge Hill University) studies the marked parallels between Chekhov’s stories and plays in technique, situation and character. But the dramatic effect is also due to Chekhov’s use of ellipses or restraint. Chekhov’s legacy is identified and analysed in Katherine Mansfield’s story “Bliss” and in Raymond Carver’s “Are These Actual Miles”.

7Martin Scofield (University of Kent) approaches the question of theatricality in Stephen Crane’s short stories and their melodramatic aspect. Yet Stephen Crane mocks the excesses of popular dime novels and the melodramatic New York theatre through his ironic distance. He thus aims at a kind of ironic theatricality which ridicules human pretensions and confusions.

8In “Charades and Gossip: The Minimalist Theatre of Joyce’s Dubliners”, Valérie Bénéjam (University of Nantes) examines James Joyce’s elliptical and minimalist short stories in order to show how theatricality functions in the epiphanies and in the dialogues, with related issues of interpretation and indetermination.

9Rita Sakr (University of Nottingham) focuses more particularly on Joyce’s story “The Dead” to identify a considerable number of dramatic elements. She recalls the influence of Ibsen and Hauptmann on Joyce and analyses the dramatic and musical effects in “The Dead”. Sound and space function as mediators of the social and political subtext in Joyce’s story.

10Anne Besnault-Lévita (University of Rouen) deals with five modernist short stories, three by Katherine Mansfield, one by Elizabeth Bowen and another one by Virginia Woolf. She explores what she calls the “dramaturgy of voice” expressed in dialogues, in monologues, in the absence of narratorial mediation. Lexico-grammatical features and phonological features are foregrounded, which creates dramaturgical moments. These remarks lead to an interpretation of the uses of such devices to suggest that Mansfield’s and Bowen’s stories devise a dramaturgy of the solitary self, while Woolf explores a dramaturgy of polyphony.

11In “’Wash’ as Faulkner’s Prose Tragedy”, Françoise Buisson (University of Pau et Pays de l’Adour) shows how Faulkner’s narrative choices such as fragments of reported or narrated monologues contribute to the theatricality of the story. The succession of tableaux reminds the reader of pantomime and the setting is also given a theatrical quality. This story inspired by Greek tragedy is not devoid of ideological implications.

12Michelle Ryan-Sautour’s article, “Behind the Scenes of Sexual/Textual Politics in Angela Carter’s ‘Overture and Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream’” deals with the intertwining of textual and sexual performance in Carter’s re-writing of the literary canon. Through the use of playful Shakespearean intertext, Carter invites the reader onto a literary stage of indeterminate limits, and through an emphasis on the author-reader contract in the performance of reading, inadvertently reveals forms of force and power at work in her fiction.

13In “This Tableau Vivant …. Might Be Better Termed a Nature Morte’: Theatricality in Angela Carter’s Fireworks,” Julie Sauvage (University of Nantes) also comments on the participation of the reader, emphasizing how Brechtian-inspired alienation effects are at work in Carter’s short fiction through the combined use of pictorial and theatrical aesthetic models. According to Sauvage, the reader can develop conflicting attitudes, as he/she can be simultaneously distanced from the text and become an active actor in the creation of meaning.

14Ailsa Cox (University of Edge Hill) studies the intertextual relationship between Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Eurydice and Helen Simpson’s “Opera”, exploring, for example, the theatrical quality of Simpson’s narrative technique and her use of direct discourse. Cox also comments on the role played by English Restoration comedy in Simpson’s work, and places special emphasis on Simpson’s equivocal ending and her ultimate movement towards a position of liminality between myth and social comedy.

15In “From Participant to Observer: Theatricality as Distantiation in Alice Munro’s ‘Royal Beatings,’ and ‘Lives of Girls and Women’” Jennifer Murray and Lee Garner (University of Franche-Comté) collaborate to demonstrate how theatrical language in Munro’s short fiction highlights moments that are inherently theatrical, such as scenes involving forms of violence. Murray and Garner also highlight the use of theatricality in relation to reader participation that creates the impression of shielding the characters from the most threatening moments of the narrative.

16The overall emphasis on the link between short fiction and theatricality led to a variety of interesting, and often surprising conclusions about the capacity of short narrative to manifest, manipulate, and experiment with the characteristics of another genre. Many comments were made about theatricality as metaphor, and on the recurrent overlapping of the concepts of performance and theatricality. The “stage” of literature was also often evoked, with an emphasis on the reader as “spectator” and “actor” in the theatrical functioning of the stories, thus questioning the boundaries of the dramatic setting. This collection of articles attests to the wide range of questions and observations that can emerge when the short story converges with other generic modes, in an ongoing exploration of its own boundaries and its potential to produce strikingly hybrid aesthetic forms.

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Laurent Lepaludier, Michelle Ryan-Sautour, "Foreword", Journal of the Short Story in English, 51, autumn 2008, 11-14.

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Laurent Lepaludier et Michelle Ryan-Sautour, « Foreword »Journal of the Short Story in English [En ligne], 51 | Autumn 2008, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2008, consulté le 29 novembre 2021. URL :

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Laurent Lepaludier

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Michelle Ryan-Sautour

Organisers of the Conference and Guest-Editors of this issue

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