Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

exact expression of our subjectivity, quite in keeping with the characteristic interests of the end of the nineteenth century.

Thus the deepening and broadening of the short story was well established by the mid-Eighties. The next development was across the water.

XIV

ROBERT LOUIS

THE SHORT STORY IN ENGLAND.

STEVENSON

short story

THE ambiguity of the term

becomes especially troublesome when one begins to consider the English fiction of the end of the nineteenth century. If it is to be interpreted to cover all short narrative, many stories clamor for attention. There are the short tales of Meredith and Hardy, the Scotch sketches of Barrie, and innumerable tales and novelettes of a like description. But most of this fiction is in closer relationship to the novel than to the short story whose development in America we have been tracing. Much of it, too, is inferior to other work by the same authors. Little of it is interesting as an attempt to do in short narrative what could not be done in long. If, however, we somewhat arbitrarily elect to study the especial and distinctive short story which the Americans had developed for themselves, and which Americans were using with full consciousness that they had a special tool for special purposes, then the atmosphere lightens. There are only a few English writers of the nineteenth, and, indeed, of the twentieth, centuries who have done notably well with the highly unified, impressionistic short story. All show American

[ocr errors]

influence. Two—the greatest-return this influence with interest. These two, Stevenson and Kipling, should be placed beside Poe, Hawthorne, Harte, and James.

Stevenson began his career as a romancer with a short story, and continued to turn to the short story again and again. He seems to have expected little reputation from these efforts in a supposedly minor art, and, always excepting the success of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he got little. But as time goes on the best of these stories, A Lodging for the Night (1877), The Sire de Malétroit's Door (1878), Will o'the Mill (1878), The Merry Men (1882), Markheim (1885), and Dr. Jekyll (1886), which, for all its length, is a short story, bulk more and more among his work. And rightly.

Two general characteristics are especially striking in these stories: the hearty, picturesque romance; and the moral analysis which is the core of each story. In A Lodging for the Night, Villon, the poet-rascal, assists at a murder, flies through the snowy streets of medieval Paris, then argues until daybreak with a feudal gentleman over the difference between thieving and war. In setting, incident, and spirit, the story is alive with genuine romance; and a moral situation—the warrior who does great ill nobly, confronted with the thief who does small ill meanly-holds together the plot.

Moralized romance! No one had done that successfully in the short story since Hawthorne. And, indeed, the more one considers Stevenson in this department of his manifold activities the more he appears to be a more artful, less puritanical Hawthorne. The

“ shorter catechist " whom Henley detected in him, found his opportunity in the short story. Markheim and Dr. Jekyll are wonderfully picturesque studies of the quality of evil; Will o'the Mill an exquisite presentation of the soul that

1

1

chose the passive voice in life; even the vividly romantic Sire de Malétroit's Door hinges upon the question, should a man marry to save his neck? They are more finished than Hawthorne's tales; they are much less didactic, for this lover of things French never made the error of preaching unduly in a work of art. They are also less dogmatic, and, perhaps for that reason, less intense. Hawthorne came before Darwinism—he belongs to the positive thinkers who saw clearly the duty of man and announced it with conviction. He belongs with Carlyle. Stevenson, who came after the triumph of the theory of evolution, is less certain in his views. He is more em- ? pirical and, therefore, more tolerant; he puts more emphasis upon a worthy life, and less upon moral law. But, in spite of these great differences, of which the last is highly significant, the resemblance is striking. Both men inquire into the moral nature of man, and turn the results into romance. This resemblance is not accidental. Stevenson was a close student of Hawthorne, particularly. in his early years. It is important, however, only in this . respect, that it links this first English writer of the new short story to the American line, and gives a comparison which is useful in appreciating his work. Stevenson can well afford the luxury of a source; he has originality enough of his own.

He has originality enough and to spare, for, after all, his philosophy of moral optimism is very much his own; and so is his romantic atmosphere, which has a beautiful reality (a very different thing from a beautiful realism) that makes it more stimulating to the imagination than the work of any recent writer in prose; and so are his characters, which include at least two types, the man obsessed by evil, and the weak man possessed of a strong idealism, that are distinct contributions to fiction. And

in style, too, Stevenson did a new thing in the short story. His structure is careful, but upon his style he lavished all his energies. Perhaps it will appear a little Euphuistic when another generation begins to read; and yet no garment could better fit the romantic dignity of his subjects. The symbolic world which lies below Will's mountain pass; Markheim's impassioned pleading for his love of good; the noble simplicities of the ancient warrior of Brisetout-all these the beautiful rhythms of Stevenson set forth with that admirable expressiveness which will, perhaps, be reckoned as the greatest virtue he possessed.

None of these things have powerfully influenced the contemporary short story. Romance had its swing and (disguised as realism) is having another, but it is the romance which Kipling fathered. The psychological analysis which owed so much to Henry James has been more interesting to the writer of our generation than the moral analysis of Stevenson. His style has proved too fine, or too difficult, for the needs of the current stories. Indeed, save in the pure romance of adventure, he has been a real influence only upon the aristocrats of letters his hand has scarcely touched those factories for the short story where are produced the narratives for the popular magazines. But this does not affect his absolute value; and whether he be regarded as a master of the short story of situation, or as the refiner and beautifier of an art too often practised in slovenliness and haste, that value is very great. A reader must feel renewed respect for the capabilities of short narrative when he finishes his Ste

venson.

XV

THE SHORT STORY IN ENGLAND.

RUDYARD KIPLING

The most influential and, in many respects, the greatest of modern writers of the short story has been Rudyard Kipling. In his work, its greatest excellences and its

. worst tendencies are alike fitly and fully displayed.

It was about 1890 that Kipling's Indian fame broadened into an English and an American celebrity. Plain Tales from the Hills (1888), stories written with a sprightly, sometimes a sensational vividness, and dealing with the novel and fascinating contrasts of Indian life, gave him a reputation which he has maintained with far better work. These stories were successful because. they were not plain. The young Kipling had studied Bret Harte to advantage. The sharp contrasts in the life of Harte's Forty-Niners had not been uninfluential in awakening a consciousness of the “story value of the

” still sharper contrasts of Anglo-India. Like Harte, hewas a journalist, but with the journalist's command, “be striking; be interesting,” far more strong upon him. And in place of Harte's mid-Victorian sentimentality he was filled full of romantic enthusiasm for primitive vigor, and the life of the emotions and the instincts. In a rapid succession of such narratives as The Man Who Would Be King (1888), On Greenhow Hill (1890), Without Benefit of Clergy (1890), Kipling established himself as the master of something vivid and new in the art of local color. Then, with The Jungle Books (1894-1895), he entered a world new to romance, and gave us India and the Primitive Emotion by novel and infinitely stirring means.

It is easy now to see what this early Kipling stood for.

[ocr errors]
« НазадПродовжити »