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Short Stories of Various Types

The Fall of the House of Usher


History. The idea of the short story is a decidedly modern conception. It was in the first half of the last century that Edgar Allan Poe worked out the idea that the short story should create a single effect. In his story, "The Fall of the House of Usher," for example, the single effect is a feeling of horror. In the first sentence of the story he begins to create this effect by words that suggest to the reader's imagination gloom and foreboding. This he consciously carries out just as an artist creates the picture of his dreams with many skillful strokes of his brush. Poe gave attention also to compressing all the details of the plot of the story instead of expanding them as in a long story or novel. He believed, too, that the plot should be original or else worked out in some new way. The single incident given, moreover, should reveal to the imagination of the reader the entire life of the chief character. Almost at the same time, Nathaniel Hawthorne, with a less conscious effort to create a single effect, based his tales upon the same ideas, with a tendency towards romance.

In the latter part of the nineteenth century, Guy de Maupassant, a French author without acquaintance with the work of the American writers, conceived the same idea of the short story, adding to it the quality of dramatic effect; that is, the idea that the single main incident should appeal to the imagination of the reader just as if it were a little play presented to him.

style="text-align: justify;">Bret Harte followed in this country with short stories that brought out, less precisely, the same idea of the short story, with the addition of local color, the atmosphere of California and the West.

Rudyard Kipling, who became a master of the technique of the short story in England, has colored his stories with the atmosphere of India and the far East, while O. Henry, the American master, has given us character types of the big cities, particularly of New York.

Its Composition. You, no doubt, have written stories for your composition work, but so far they have probably been chronological narratives; that is, stories told, as the newspapers tell them, by relating a series of events in the order of time. The real short story, has, like the novel, a plot. The word _plot_ here means the systematic plan or pattern into which the author weaves the events of the story up to some finishing point of intense interest or of great importance to the story. This vital part of the narrative is called the _climax_ or crucial point. If you note the pattern or design in wall paper, carpet, or dress ornament, you will see that all the threads or lines are usually worked together to form a harmonious whole, but there is some special center of the design toward which everything works. In the short story, as soon as the author arrives at the crucial point he is through, often having no other conclusion. This ending is so important that it must always be thought out or planned for from the very beginning. This is true even in a surprise ending, such as O. Henry delights in.

Unlike the novel, the short story works its plot out in some single main incident, which is usually acted out by one chief character in a short space of time, and all but the necessary details are omitted. Thus the short story, which is read in a brief time, has a better opportunity than the novel to produce a complete unity of effect upon the mind of the reader, such as the effect of horror in Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher."

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