Among various genres of literature, short stories had always been my favorite. A novel maybe interesting but tends to get superfluous at times, but a perfectly constructed short story can’t afford the luxury of extraneous content and characters. Every word, every sentence is essential to convey the story. I had always been more fascinated by the works of the masters of short story genre than the rest of the literary world. Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to get to read the works of Anton Chekov, Nikolay Gogol, D. H. Lawrence, Edgar Allen Poe, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, Arthur Conan Doyle, O. Henry and Ivan Turgenev – the jewels among short story writers. I remember having bought my first collection of short stories…”The complete collection of short stories by Guy de Maupassant”, a really fat volume, after reading his short story “Love” in my sixth standard English textbook; and it still hasn’t left my bedside bookshelf. And thus began a wonderful journey of exploring the best of the short stories ever written.
I’ve also chanced upon the short stories written by authors who are primarily known for their novels. Virginia Woolf, Daniel Defoe, Rabindranath Tagore, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, William Faulkner, Mark Twain, Maxim Gorky…the list goes on and on.
I’ve the habit of reading many books in rotation, and currently I’m reading a mixed compilation of short stories and the novel “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” by Carson McCullers. The latter I’ve just started reading, so it’s too early to comment on it. As for the short stories, I came upon a few highly captivating ones that made an interesting read. Among the ones that I’ve recently read, these are the ones I highly recommend:
1) “The Idiot” by Arnold Bennett- It’s about a man who when faced with rejection from his fiancée sets upon the task of hanging himself to death, and while attempting it he is intruded by the village idiot, who not only doesn’t realize the gravity of the situation but actually helps the man tie the noose, adjust the length of the rope. The village idiot has no clue that he helped the man commit suicide and happily sets about the task of going to town to buy a pair of new shoes!
2)“The Honour of Israel Gow” by G.K. Chesterton- This is an eerie tale about a castle inhabited by two eccentric characters, the owner of the castle and his solitary manservant, Israel Gow. The story sets about tracing strange clues by a priest and a detective to investigate the mysterious death of the castle’s owner.
3)“The legend of St. Julian the Hospitaller” by Gustave Flaubert- I found it very disturbing. The author writes about the legend of St. Julian that he read about in a note stuck to the church window. It describes the life of St. Julian, born as the heir to a wealthy Count and Countess, and his childhood and youth spent in a frightening and wild desire to hunt animals and birds for pleasure that is very disturbingly portrayed in detail in the story. He’s cursed by an animal later that one day he would accidentally kill his parents. This torments him and he leaves home and wanders away to get involved in other conquests, but returns to his hunting after a few years and one day accidentally murders his parents. Later as repentance, he helps nurse sick people and one day goes out of his way to comfort a leper. The leper was Lord Jesus in disguise and thus goes the legend of St. Julian.
4)Nikolay Gogol’s “The Overcoat/The Cloak” (for the 5th time) - I love this classic about a man whose life revolves round copying documents at work, and lives the life of a recluse unaware of the going ons in the world around him. And one day the cold weather makes him realize the need of a new overcoat, and it’s this very garment that brings about in his routine and uneventful life an unexpected twist. A delightful read.
5)Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Mrs. Bullfrog”- An extremely witty tale about the search for the perfect wife by a certain Mr. Bullfrog, and on finding her he feels blessed to have married such a woman. The hilarious events that ensues following shocking revelations about his wife’s appearance and past, makes him realize that he couldn’t have been more wrong in the choice of a wife. These revelations coupled with the pitying glances people threw him scares him but the feeling is replaced by a gush of tenderness for his wife when she tells him the amount of dowry she brings with her to aid him in his
6)O. Henry’s “the Master Of Arts”- It’s about two men, an artist and his friend, who plots to con a vain ruler who is ready to part with any sum of money for a work of art glorifying him. They manage to do so, but face conflict with their own principles about the craft they excel in.
7)James Joyce’s “A painful case”- A middle-aged man who leads a solitary, unobtrusive life has a chance meeting with a married woman that leads to an affair, but he abandons her and leaves her heartbroken. Four years later he reads a newspaper article about her death and goes through a range of emotions from anger to remorse.
8)H. G. Wells “The Truth about Pyecraft”- It’s a uproarious story about an unusually fat man, Pyecraft, who persuades the narrator of the tale to help him lose “weight” by asking for his grandmother’s recipe about a certain concoction. The results were too literal…and he lost “weight” instead of “fat”. He lost the pull o gravity and began to float around the house. This leads to an amazing transformation in his home décor to fit his new weightless state. But later on the narrator comes up with the idea of lead undergarments to keep Pyecraft rooted to the ground!
9)Edith Wharton’s “The Other Two”- It describes the plight of the third husband of a rather charming lady. The plight doesn’t arise from something amiss in the marriage, but due to his frequent encounters with her ex-husbands and through these uncomfortable, awkward encounters he realizes that his wife’s horrid description of her past husbands aren’t quite true. It also portrays an unusual character in the form of the wife who neither makes an attempt to approach nor avoid her ex-husbands much to the discomfort of her present husband. But he later laughs this off and takes it in his stride.
10)Virginia Woolf’s “Lappin and Lappinova”- This is not one of her best works. But nevertheless, I liked it. It’s about a newly married couple; the wife who is scared of leading a suffocating, routine married life. So she weaves a tale of imagination around themselves…a world where her husband is Lappin (French word for rabbit) and she’s a Lappinova (a female hare)…who rule the kingdom of rabbits and the people they encounter in their daily life are part of that imaginary forest too. They slip into this secret, imaginary world and role play when they are alone and even amidst a busy gathering. The husband plays along to keep his wife happy. And one day he grows weary of this role playing and that ends his wife’s imaginary, happy world. And that’s the end of their love and marriage too!
11)Tagore’s “My Lord, the baby”- This is the story of a devoted servant who cares for his master‘s son from his childhood till the boy grows up, gets married and has a son of his own. The servant then takes care of the new baby in the family. But in an unfortunate accident, he loses his master’s baby, who gets drowned in the river. This leads to him being thrown away from his master’s place and he returns to his village. He has his own son shortly thereafter and raises him just like a rich man’s son by enduring hardships himself. He later gives away the boy to his master’s family saying he is their son whom he had stolen earlier and convinces them that it’s the truth. Thus he pays off for the loss he had caused them earlier and walks away from their lives forever.
12)Dorothy Parker’s “You Were Perfectly Fine”- It’s a delightful, funny tale about the revelations a man learns about his drunken antics of the previous night and it turns out to be a nightmarish hangover!
13)Hemingway’s “The Three Day Blow”- This is a classic. It’s all about a conversation between two friends over drinks as they talk about fishing, sports, books and love. Must read.
14)Voltaire’s “Jeannot and Colin”- It’s a simple tale about two friends; one gets instant wealth and fame and attracts fair-weather friends, becomes proud and arrogant, shuns education in the delusion that wealth is permanent, gets duped in love by a gold-digger, and the other has a rags to riches life by dint of hard work and never loses touch with reality and also valued his relationships with others.
15)Tolstoy’s “God sees the truth but waits”- It’s about a trader who is falsely accused of murder and lives his entire adult life in prison. But one day as an old man he meets a new prisoner, and in the course of conversation realizes that the actual perpetrator of the crime that he had been accused of is the new prisoner. He feels anger and resentment but leaves to God to do justice. By the time the prisoner confesses his crime and the trader awaits his release from prison, a long time passes and he dies before the arrival of the release order.
Few other stories that I read and would like to recommend are- “True relation of the Apparition of One Mrs. Veal” by Daniel Defoe, “The Christmas tree and the Wedding” by Feodor Dostoyevsky, , E. M. Forster’s “The other side of the hedge”, and Mark Twain’s “Luck”.
Do tell me about your favorite short stories. I’d love to hear about them. I’d keep sharing more interesting short stories in the future.