Are these Henry James’s best short stories and novellas?
Henry James (1843-1916) was a prolific writer of short stories and novellas – what he himself called ‘tales’ – and a number of them are widely read and studied. In this post, we’ve picked just five of James’s very best tales, and said a little bit about them.
‘The Beast in the Jungle’. In this longer tale from 1903 – it’s so long it is sometimes categorised as a ‘novella’ – Henry James uses his interest in delay (enacted so well by his meandering and clause-ridden syntax) to explore a friendship between a man and a woman which never turns into a romantic relationship because the man, John Marcher, fears that something terrible is going to befall him. His stalwart and patient female companion, May, stands by his side and tries to help him make sense of this mysterious and imprecise threat which he feels hangs over him. Will this ‘beast’ lurking in the jungle of his unconscious ever be unleashed? Perhaps James’s finest example of a subversion of the traditional love story. Read the rest of this entry
Previously, we’ve picked the best of Virginia Woolf’s novels and non-fiction works, but she was also a fine writer of very short stories. Although Woolf didn’t write a great amount of short fiction, a number of her short stories are classic examples of early twentieth-century modernism. All five stories are included in The Mark on the Wall and Other Short Fiction (Oxford World’s Classics), which is a treasure-trove of very short modernist fiction by one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers.
‘The Mark on the Wall’. In this short story, the narrator tells us about a mark she noticed on the wall; what follows is, essentially, is eight pages of stream of consciousness as we follow the narrator’s thoughts, memories, and daydreams. The mark on the wall is jumping-off-point, but the ‘life’ of the story resides in what goes on in the narrator’s mind: Woolf is telling us that the material world is not everything, since there is an almost spiritual delight in the life of the mind which conventional fiction seldom takes into account. The rock group Modest Mouse took their band name from a phrase in this story. Read the rest of this entry
Are these D. H. Lawrence’s greatest short stories?
D. H. Lawrence (1885-1930) wrote novels, short stories, and poems, among many other things. Although he died in his mid-forties – from tuberculosis – he was a prolific writer who left behind a vast body of work, including many short stories. Below, we’ve picked five of Lawrence’s very best short stories, and said a little bit about each of them.
‘The Rocking-Horse Winner’. ‘The Rocking-Horse Winner’ was first published in 1926. It’s a story about luck, money, and success, and the dangers of chasing after these and investing too much in them. But how we should analyse and interpret the story remains unclear. The story focuses on a young boy, Paul, who wishes to win money for his mother and who manages to do so by riding his rocking-horse until he enters a state of near-frenzy and he manages to ‘predict’ the name of the horse that will win the next major race. He does this several times, winning ever greater sums of money for his mother, egged on by his Uncle Oscar in whom he confides about the rocking-horse trick. But such a winning streak cannot go on forever… Read the rest of this entry