Blackwell Literature Handbooks

This new series offers the student thorough and lively introductions to literary periods, movements, and, in some instances, authors and genres, from Anglo- Saxon to the Postmodern. Each volume is written by a leading specialist to be invitingly accessible and informative. Chapters are devoted to the coverage of cultural context, the provision of brief but detailed biographical essays on the authors concerned, critical coverage of key works, and surveys of themes and topics, together with bibliographies of selected further reading. Students new to a period of study or to a period genre will discover all they need to know to orientate and ground themselves in their studies, in volumes that are as stimulating to read as they are convenient to use.


The Science Fiction Handbook
M. Keith Booker and Anne-Marie Thomas

The Seventeenth-Century Literature Handbook
Marshall Grossman

The Twentieth-Century American Fiction Handbook
Christopher MacGowan

The British and Irish Short Story Handbook
David Malcolm

Title Page

for Jennifer


I thank Zina Rohan, without whose kindness and generosity I could not have written this book.

I thank Cheryl Verdon. Many years ago, she pointed out to me the excellences of short fiction. I have only realized fully over the past few years how right she was. In addition, I have been deeply influenced by our work together on several books.

My thanks also go to William and James Malcolm for their enduring toleration of their father's work.

I also thank Jennifer Carter. Without her unstinting support, this book would never have been written. I am very grateful indeed. This book is dedicated to her.


This book is divided into five parts. Part 1 offers a brief history of the short story, first in Britain, and then in Ireland (as far as the developments are distinguishable). Part 2 addresses important issues in short-story studies: the question of the definition of the short story; whether the short story is a genre, or a higher-level category; the importance of the collection for interpretation of short stories; the matter of the short story's predilection for dealing with marginal characters; and the vexed topic of the canonicity or non-canonicity of short fiction. In Part 3, I present the spectrum of genres that has marked British and Irish short fiction from the 1880s through to the present. Part 4 presents brief discussions of almost fifty key authors for the British and Irish short story. I have attempted to strike a balance between well-known and less canonical writers, although I have given substantial space to lesser-known but important writers, such as Richard Aldington, Hubert Crackanthorpe, Julian Maclaren-Ross, Mollie Panter-Downes, and Sylvia Townsend Warner. The final chapter contains extensive discussions of individual key short-story texts, both in the British and Irish traditions.

Writing a book involves discovery and disappointment for the author. While working on this text, I have gained considerable respect for an English tradition (and as a Scot, I use the term “English” advisedly) in short-story writing since 1880. Hubert Crackanthorpe, James Lasdun, W. Somerset Maugham, Michael Moorcock, T. F. Powys, and V. S. Pritchett – these are very fine and very varied English voices. They take their place beside other great English short-story writers, such as H. G Wells, D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf; and alongside their Irish peers, such as James Joyce, Seán O'Faoláin, John McGahern, William Trevor, and Bernard MacLaverty. The motif of immigration that runs throughout so many texts – for example, those by George Moore, Joseph Conrad, William Trevor, and Hanif Kureishi – discussed in this volume has also surprised me (although perhaps it should not have). These are two of the discoveries. On the other hand, one of my disappointments is the exclusion of substantial writers, an exclusion demanded by the scope of the book. I would have liked to have written more (or at all) on short stories by Ella D'Arcy, George Egerton (Mary Chavalita Dunne), Alun Lewis, and Graham Swift, among others. Another disappointment (or perhaps it is, rather, a promising discovery) is an awareness of areas that still need considerable research, for example, the pre-1880s evolution of British short fiction, and the role of institutions (The New Yorker and the BBC) in the course followed by twentieth-century British short fiction. I have pointed these out at relevant places in this book.