9: The Lonely Voice

The Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short StoryThe Lonely Voice: A Study of the Short Story by Frank O’Connor

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Borrowed from the VPL.

Read in March 2013.

View all my reviews

Some notes from the introduction:

  • “The novel is bound to be a process of identification between the reader and the character.” (16)
  • But this is not true of short stories: “There is no character here with whom the reader can identify himself, unless it is that nameless horrified figure who represents the author … the short story has never had a hero. What it has instead is a submerged population group,” (17) i.e. outlawed figures, fringes of society.
  • “there is in the short story at its most characteristic something we do not often find in the novel–an intense awareness of human loneliness” (18-19).
  • The differences between novel and short story are more ideological—with respect to national attitude toward society—than formal. The novel = civilized society, community. The short story = “remote from the community–romantic, individualistic, and intransigent” (20).
  • the short story “is organic form, something that springs from a single detail and embraces past, present, and future” (21)
  • the storyteller “must be much more of a writer, much more of an artist” (22) than the novelist—great novelists can be inferior writers; great storytellers are generally not inferior writers.
  • “the form of the novel is given by the length;  in the short story the length is given by the form” (26)
  • “the difference between the short story and the novel is not one of length. It is a difference between pure and applied storytelling” (26)
  • short story = static, single episode, life telescoped. novel = episodic.

We have been told that the novel is dead, and I am sure that someone has said as much for the short story. I suspect that the announcement may prove a little premature … the novel and the short story are drastic adaptations of a primitive art form to modern conditions—to printing, to science, and individual religion–and I see no possibility of or reason for their supersession except in a general supersession of all culture by mass civilization. (43) [dated June 21, 1962]

The rest of the book is an analysis of work by various short story writers. There are some insights here and there, but also so many racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic stereotypes. I found it hard to take. The Katherine Mansfield chapter was especially terrible. So yeah. If you pick this up, you’ve been warned. The introduction was interesting, though.

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  1. Pingback: 16: Forty Stories | The Remainder Table

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