Tema 57- La novela corta, el cuento y el ensayo actuales en Gran Bretaña. Selección de textos y análisis de una obra representativa

Tema 57- La novela corta, el cuento y el ensayo actuales en Gran Bretaña. Selección de textos y análisis de una obra representativa

  1. British Short fiction:

One of the more curious anomalies of literary history is why the short story was so late to blossom in Britain. By the 1840s the genre was already established in America, and within two decades it had taken root in Germany, Russia, and France. This modern story did not achieve prominence in Britain until the 1880s, even though Britain would appear especially likely to develop the genre, since during the period of the story’s “invention,” Britain was a world leader in the writing and dissemination of fiction.

The late appearance of the modern short story in Britain can best be understood as a question of literary economics, the business of literary production, in combination with aesthetic and theoretical factors, retarded the evolution of the short story in Britain until late in the nineteenth century. The problem is not simply the usual one of trying to relate the complexities of audience, publication practices, and artistic propensities to the development of any literary phenomenon, it is also that the materials for such a study have not been gathered. By contrast, a considerable amount of work, both theoretical and statistical, has been done on the British and American novel to show the relationship between economics and the growth and development of that genre. Q. D. Leavis’s Fiction and the Reading Public (1932) concerns the development of the reading audience. lan Watt’s Rise of the Novel (1957) was among the early studies to link the popularity of the form with the growth of a middle-class readership. Richard Altick’s English Common Reader (1957) contains a wealth of important information about the sociology of English readers and their tastes, but it touches only briefly on the short story. William Charvat’s Literary Publishing in America 1790-1850 (1959) and his The Profession of Authorship in America, 1800-1870 (1968) cut across genres and have some useful things to say about the rise of magazines and the production of short stories, as does Frederick Lewis Pattee’s The Development of the American Short Story (1923), but obviously, these studies focus on American literature. Since these early studies, there have been many more on various aspects of audience, economics, and literature, but again, the focus is on the novel: N. N. Feltes’s Modes of Production of Victorian Novels (1986), James M. Brown, Dickens: Novelist in the Market-place (1982), Michael Anesko, Friction with the Market. Henry James and the Profession of Authorship (1986), James L. W. West III, American Authors and the Literary Marketplace Since 1900 (1988). Theoretical studies include Robert Escarpit, The Sociology of Literature (2nd ed, 1964), Per Gedin, Literature in the Marketplace (1977), and Pierre Macherey, A Theory of Literary Production (1978). All of this scholarship and much more on the literary agent, the important literary magazines in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and on the literary aspects of the short story–have swirled around the economic and commercial aspects of the British short story without ever addressing the subject directly or in any detail.

Another impediment to understanding the evolution of the British story has been the lack of historical studies focused on it. Rather recently, however, two detailed histories of the nineteenth-century British short story have appeared that lay the foundation for an economic study: Wendell Harris’s British Short Fiction in the Nineteenth Century: A Literary and Bibliographic Guide (1979) and Harold Orel’s The Victorian Short Story (1986). Together they provide an important literary history of the British short story. Harris’s book is an overview of a great many authors and their attempts at and contributions to the short fiction of the nineteenth century, while Orel’s study focuses on nine writers from William Carleton to Joseph Conrad and H. G. Wells, examining in greater detail than Harris does the literary achievement of each and relating that achievement, at least generally, to the economics of magazine publication.

What follows, then, is an attempt to combine and extend the work of these and other scholars and thereby to trace the evolution of the short story in Britain in the nineteenth century, emphasizing the economic conditions that, in conjunction with the theoretical and aesthetic forces of the time, culminated in the first “golden age” of the British short story in the 1880s and 1890s. The theoretical basis for this outline is provided by Richard A. Peterson’s “Six Constraints on the Production of Literary Works,” which lists the six “constraints” as law, technology, industry structure, organizational structure, careers, and market.

Literary historians agree that the development of the modern short story is closely linked to the rise of magazines. The growing significance of British magazines is in turn related to two matters of law-taxation and copyright. The important early nineteenth-century reviews like the Edinburgh Review (1802), the Quarterly Review (1809), and Blackwood’s (1817) prospered with small circulations in spite of the so-called “taxes on knowledge” designed to limit the influence of the press. It was not until later in the century, with the repeal of advertising duties in 1853, the stamp duty in 1855, and the tax on paper in 1861, these official impediments to periodicals were removed. Repeal of these taxes led immediately to the foundation of many newspapers, especially in the provinces, and then to many more periodicals. Of these, the gradual removal of the advertising tax may have been the most important for magazines.

Relative to copyright, in 1814, British law was amended to provide copyright protection to authors for a period of 28 years or until the end of the author’s life. In 1842, this was further extended to 42 years or seven years after the author’s death, whichever was longer. Although this law is usually discussed only in relation to books, it applied to other publications as well. The result of these legal changes was to expand the opportunities for professional authorship. Magazines and newspapers provided new outlets for writers of all kinds, and the gradual discovery that fiction was a popular commodity eventually created a huge demand for shot fiction and serialized novels. However, British works had no protection in America, with the result that British novels were routinely pirated by American publishers, to the detriment of the Britons’ pocketbooks and the growth of American literature.

A quasi-legal impediment to the popularizing of fiction in general was the extreme prejudice against imaginative literature held by early Victorian Evangelicals and Utilitarians. Gradually, however, this prejudice faded.

The technology most closely linked to the market for short stories is that leading to the mass production of magazines and newspapers. This is not the place for a detailed history of printing and publishing, but a brief outline of developments relating to the newspaper and periodical press is worth emphasizing, for without the ability to produce large quantities of cheap printed material, the short story almost certainly could not have flourished as it eventually did.

These technological advances had created an industry structure such that by the 1830s there were magazines and penny papers for every taste, from the aristocratic to the working class, the former with circulations in the tens of thousands, the latter reaching hundreds of thousands. By the middle of the century, therefore, magazines existed in sufficient number and variety to justify saying that an industry structure existed to promote the short story.

Publications had to turn a profit or at least break even, but so long as circulation and not advertising was the important source of revenue, editors were relatively free to choose the contents of their magazines. Thus, the early British reviews, suspicious of fiction, disguised stories and talcs under letter to the editors, essays, or reports of travel. It was nor until mid-century and after that the more respectable journals like Macmillan’s, Temple Bar, and Cornhill began including short fiction for its own sake.

This dichotomy between the popular taste for sensationalism and the establishment’s fear of the debasing powers of such fiction seems to have worked against the emergence of the short story in British magazines. To put it another way, there was little incentive for authors to produce short fiction, since there was only a small market for it, except in the low-prestige penny press. In neither type of publication was there any demand for or understanding of the short story as a genre distinct from the abbreviated novel, even though shorter and more realistic stories were frequently pirated from America.

The importance of economics in this respect is illustrated by a contrast with the United States, where the expensive gift-book annual provided the first profitable outlet for native short fiction. This fad in turn spawned Godey’s Lady’s Book (1830), which for the first few years pirated most of its fiction from England. By 1834, however, it was publishing American fiction almost exclusively, including a story by Poe. The editor insisted that all such fiction be short. The combined influence of the demand for short, concentrated stories and high payment helps to explain why the modern short story appeared when and where it did.

Another relevant economic consideration is the fact that in England journalism rather than fiction was the staple of the ordinary writer throughout most of the nineteenth century. Most writers not only began but also finished their careers in journalism. Tracing the careers of the great Victorian writers like Dickens, Trollope, and Eliot, reveals that none of them made substantial sums through their short fiction. Of course, they did publish short fiction, or at least fiction shorter than full-length novels, in periodicals, but the amount of money received for any given story, and the relative proportion of their income that could be derived from stories, was comparatively small. Short fiction, as an economically or aesthetically successful genre, did not emerge until the 1880.

By mid-century, certainly by the 1860s, everything theoretically needed to support the short story and its writers existed, yet it would be another generation before the genre actually flourished. Irving’s Sketch Book containing Rip Van Winkle” had appeared in 1820, followed by Hawthorne’s Tivice-Told Tales (1837) and Mosses from an Old Manse (1846). Poe’s Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque was published in 1840, and his famous review of Hawthorne’s stories with its “single effect” theory, came out in 1842. By mid-century Gogol’s “The Portrait” had reached Britain in translation, and Turgenev had written some of his finest short works and had even visited England. But such influences, important as they may appear in retrospect, hardly touched the British.

We are faced at this point with something of a contradiction: on the one hand, it appears that a certain market did exist for short stories or short fiction by the mid-nineteenth century, but on the other hand it was not a particularly profitable one for British writers. It was because of the immense prestige of the novel, which in turn rested on the idea that history lent dignity and moral seriousness to fiction.

What retarded the development of the British short story, then, could be called a problem of “the market” in that editors and readers did not insist upon relatively brief, self-contained, single-effect stories but were content with short fiction that was in essence a condensed novel or that took the form of a joke, fantasy, or thriller. But more accurately it was an aesthetic problem. Dickens is a case in point: as an author, he defined the short story as anything told orally by a narrator within the story; as an editor, he regarded it as anything shorter than four serial installments. Similarly, Trollope concentrated his writing of short fiction on the decade of the 1860s when he was editor of St. Paul’s. He earned most of his considerable lifetime income from novels and regarded stories as brief novels whose purpose was to report on the social world. He gave his readers good value for their money but paid little attention to the story as a distinct art form.

In the 1870s, however, several developments prepared the way for the flourishing of the short story in Britain for the remainder of the century. First was the infusion of new energy, subject matter, and economic importance. Second was the influence of Henry James, whose short story writing career began in the 1870s and ran until 1910. James, more than any other author of his time, regarded the short story seriously as an art form, pondered over its possibilities, experimented with its form and structure, and thought systematically about its aesthetics. Furthermore, from 1875 he was writing in England and meeting British writers. His subject matter was, particularly in these early years, the traditional material of the novel, the individual in relation to society. Two of his collections, The Passionate Pilgrim and Transatlantic Sketches, were published in 1875.

Concurrent with the evolving importance and profitability of the short story was the emergence of a coherent theory of the form as distinct from the novel. In this, the early contribution of Poe was crucial but not immediately influential. It remained for Brander Matthews to codify and extend Poe’s ideas, first in a Saturday Review article in 1884 and subsequently in Lippincott’s Magazine. His influence appears to have been profound and long-lasting, for his insistence on unity through plot lasted well into this century. His immediate impact was, however, beneficial in providing a theoretical basis to British practitioners and magazine editors.

All the factors mentioned above, advances in the mass production of magazines, the clearing away of legal obstacles, the establishment of magazines and the machinery for their distribution, the growing sense of literature as a profession, and the emergence of a mass market for fiction, paved the way for the true short story in Britain. Indications of the “professionalization” of literature in all of its aspects may be seen in the founding of the Society of Authors in 1884, the Booksellers Association in 1895, and the Publishers Association in 1896. Similarly, the rise of the literary agent in the 1890s provided the financial, business, and professional touches authorship needed. When the Strand appeared in 1891 declaring it would print only complete short stories and not serialized novels, the circle was complete. Economic and aesthetic forces were now fully aligned, and the British short story could proceed apace. From Arnold Bennett on, nearly every writer of consequence would find in the short story a means toward financial support and reputation building.

  1. British Essays:

Twentieth-century British Essayists:

  • Russell: The Value of Scepticism
  • Huxley: Words & Behaviour, Fetishism
  • E. B. White: The Ring of Time
  • W. Lippmann: The Indispensable Opposition
  • C. Clarke: We’ll never Conquer Space
  • N. Mailer: The White Negro
  • G. Vidal: Armageddon
  • A. Rich: When We Dead Awaken
  • S. Kauffmann: The Film Generation
  • P. Blake: The Fantasy of the Skyscraper
  • E. Said: Culture and Imperialism
  • J. Bronowski: Scientific Reasoning, The Reach of Imagination
  1. British Tales:

– Book of British Fairy Tales by Alan Garner. Delacorte Press, 1984. Stories from all over Great Britain, including tales from Scotland and from the Traveling People:
Battle of the Birds, Black Bull of Norroway, Black Horse, Castle of Melvales, Flying Childer, Golden Ball, Gold-Tree and Silver Tree, Green Mist, Jack and the Green Lady, Kate Crackernuts, Little Bull Calf, Little Fox, Mally Whuppy
Mossycoat, Mr. Fox, Old Witch, Paddo, Rose Tree, Seawife and the Crone, Yallery Brown.

– English Fairy Tales, collected by Joseph Jacobs. Reprinted by Dover, 1967: Tom Tit Tot, Ass, the Table and the Stick, Binnorie, Cap o’ Rushes, Cat and the Mouse, Cauld Lad of Hilton, Childe Rowland, Earl Mar’s Daughter, Fairy Ointment, Fish and the Ring, Golden Arm, Henny-Penny, History of Tom Thumb, How Jack Went to Seek His Fortune, Jack and His Golden Snuff-Box, Jack and the Beanstall, Jack Hannaford, Jack the Giant-Killer, Johnny-Cake, Kate Crackernuts, Laidly Worm of Spindleton Heugh, Lazy Jack, Magpie’s Next, Master and His Pupil, Master of All Masters, Molly Whuppie, Mouse and Mouser, Mr. Fox, Mr. Miacca, Mr. Vinegar, Nix Nought Nothing, Old Woman and Her Pig, Red Ettin.

Joseph Jacobs was born in Sydney in 1854, but soon emigrated to England and USA. He was a preminent scholar and literay critic, and published many books on Jewish history and tradition, but nowadays he is best remembered for his contribution to children’s literature. In 1890 he published a collection of legends and fairy tales under the title English Fairy Tales, where you can find famous stories like “Tom Tit Tot”, “The Story of Three Little Pigs”, “Tom Thumb” or “Jack and the Beanstalk”. Jacobs went on to compile five more volumes of English, Celtic, Indian, and European folktales and stories, as well as a version of The Fables of Aesop and The Thousand and One Nights.
Other famous stories that he published are “Henny-Penny”, “The Story of three Bears”, “Molly Whuppie”, “Lazy Jack”, “Johnny Cake” and “Master of all Masters”.
Folktales of England, edited by Katharine Briggs and Ruth Tongue. University of Chicago Press, 1965: Annie Luker’s Ghost, Apple-Tree Man, Borrowdale Cuckoo
Churchyard, Company on the Road, Contrary Wife, Cure for a Witch, Curious Cat
Deaf Man and the Pig Trough, Devil and St. Dunstan, Dog and the Hares, Dolly and the Duke, Drake’s Cannon Ball, Endless Tale, Fairy Follower, Fairy Merchandise, Fairy Midwife, Farmer and His Ox, Farmer and His Wife and the Mirror, First Banana.

Analysis of Tom Tit Tot by Joseph Jacobs:


ONCE upon a time there was a woman, and she baked five pies. And when they came out of the oven, they were that overbaked the crusts were too hard to eat. So she says to her daughter:

‘Darter,’ says she, ‘put you them there pies on the shelf, and leave ’em there a little, and they’ll come again.’ – She meant, you know, the crust would get soft.

But the girl, she says to herself: ‘Well, if they’ll come again, I’ll eat ’em now.’ And she set to work and ate ’em all, first and last.

Well, come supper-time the woman said: ‘Go you, and get one o’ them there pies. I dare say they’ve come again now.’

The girl went and she looked, and there was nothing but the dishes. So back she came and says she: ‘Noo, they ain’t come again.’

‘Not one of ’em?’ says the mother.

‘Not one of’ ’em,’ says she.

‘Well, come again, or not come again,’ said the woman, ‘I’ll have one for supper.’

‘But you can’t, if they ain’t come,’ said the girl.

‘But I can,’ says she. ‘Go you, and bring the best of ’em.’

‘Best or worst,’ says the girl, ‘I’ve ate ’em all, and you can’t have one till that’s come again.’

Well, the woman she was done, and she took her spinning to the door to spin, and as she span she sang:

‘My darter ha’ ate five, five pies today.
My darter ha’ ate five, five pies today.’

The king was coming down the street, and he heard her sing, but what she sang he couldn’t hear, so he stopped and said:

‘What was that you were singing, my good woman?’

The woman was ashamed to let him hear what her daughter had been doing, so she sang, instead of that:

‘My darter ha’ spun five, five skeins today.
My darter ha’ spun five, five skeins today.’

‘Stars o’ mine!’ said the king, ‘I never heard tell of anyone that could do that.’ Then he said: ‘Look you here, I want a wife, and I’ll marry your daughter. But look you here,’ says he, ‘eleven months out of the year she shall have all she likes to eat, and all the gowns she likes to get, and all the company she likes to keep; but the last month of the year she’ll have to spin five skeins every day, and if she don’t I shall kill her.’

‘All right,’ says the woman; for she thought what a grand marriage that was. And as for the five skeins, when the time came, there’d be plenty of ways of getting out of it, and likeliest, he’d have forgotten all about it.

Well, so they were married. And for eleven months the girl had all she liked to eat, and all the gowns she liked to get, and all the company she liked to keep.

But when the time was getting over, she began to think about the skeins and to wonder if he had ’em in mind. But not one word did he say about ’em, and she thought he’d wholly forgotten ’em.

However, the last day of the last month he takes her to a room she’d never set eyes on before. There was nothing in it but a spinning-wheel and a stool. And says he: ‘Now, my dear, here you’ll be shut in tomorrow with some victuals and some flax, and if you haven’t spun five skeins by the night, your head’ll go off.’

And away he went about his business.

Well, she was that frightened, she’d always been such a gatless girl, that she didn’t so much as know how to spin, and what was she to do tomorrow with no one to come nigh her to help her? She sate down on a stool in the kitchen, and law! how she did cry!

However, all of a sudden she heard a sort of a knocking low down on the door. She upped and oped it, and what should she see but a small little black thing with a long tail. That looked up at her right curious, and that said:

‘What are you a-crying for?’

‘What’s that to you?’ says she.

‘Never you mind,’ that said, ‘but tell me what you’re a-crying for.’

‘That won’t do me no good if I do,’ says she.

‘You don’t know that,’ that said, and twirled that’s tail round.

‘Well,’ says she, ‘that won’t do no harm, if that don’t do no good,’ and she upped and told about the pies, and the skeins, and everything.

‘This is what I’ll do,’ says the little black thing. ‘I’ll come to your window every morning and take the flax and bring it spun at night.’

‘What’s your pay?’ says she.

That looked out of the corner of that’s eyes, and that said:

‘I’ll give you three guesses every night to guess my name, and if you haven’t guessed it before the month’s up you shall be mine.’

Well, she thought, she’d be sure to guess that’s name before the month was up. ‘All right,’ says she, ‘I agree.’

‘All right,’ that says, and law! how that twirled that’s tail.

Well, the next day, her husband took her into the room, and there was the flax and the day’s food.

‘Now, there’s the flax,’ says he, ‘and if that ain’t spun up this night, off goes your head.’ And then he went out and locked the door.

He’d hardly gone, when there was a knocking against the window.

She upped and she oped it, and there sure enough was the little old thing sitting on the ledge.

‘Where’s the flax?’ says he.

‘Here it be,’ says she. And she gave it to him.

Well, come the evening a knocking came again to the window. She upped and she oped it, and there was the little old thing with five skeins of flax on his arm.

‘Here it be,’ says he, and he gave it to her.

‘Now, what’s my name?’ says he.

‘What, is that Bill?’ says she.

‘Noo, that ain’t,’ says he, and he twirled his tail. ‘Is that Ned?’ says she.

‘Noo, that ain’t,’ says he, and he twirled his tail. ‘Well, is that Mark?’ says she.

‘Noo, that ain’t,’ says he, and he twirled his tail harder, and away he flew.

Well, when her husband came in, there were the five skeins ready for him. ‘I see I shan’t have to kill you tonight, my dear,’ says he; ‘you’ll have your food and your flax in the morning,’ says he, and away he goes.

Well, every day the flax and the food were brought, and every day that there little black impet used to come mornings and evenings. And all the day the girl sate trying to think of names to say to it when it came at night. But she never hit on the right one. And as it got towards the end of the month, the impet began to look so maliceful, and that twirled that’s tail faster and faster each time she gave a guess.

At last it came to the last day but one. The impet came at night along with the five skeins, and that said:

‘What, ain’t you got my name yet?’

‘Is that Nicodemus?’ says she.

‘Noo, ‘t ain’t,’ that says.

‘Is that Sammle?’ says she.

‘Noo, ‘t ain’t,’ that says.

‘A-well, is that Methusalem?’ says she.

‘Noo, ‘t ain’t that neither,’ that says.

Then that looks at her with that’s eyes like a coal of fire, and that says: ‘Woman, there’s only tomorrow night, and then you’ll be mine!’ And away it flew.

Well, she felt that horrid. However, she heard the king coming along the passage. In he came, and when he sees the five skeins, he says, says he:

‘Well, my dear,’ says he. ‘I don’t see but what you’ll have your skeins ready tomorrow night as well, and as I reckon I shan’t have to kill you, I’ll have supper in here tonight.’ So they brought supper, and another stool for him, and down the two sate.

Well, he hadn’t eaten but a mouthful or so, when he stops and begins to laugh.

‘What is it?’ says she.

‘A-why,’ says he, ‘I was out a-hunting today, and I got away to a place in the wood I’d never seen before. And there was an old chalk-pit. And I heard a kind of a sort of humming. So I got off my hobby, and I went right quiet to the pit, and I looked down. Well, what should there be but the funniest little black thing you ever set eyes on. And what was that doing, but that had a little spinning-wheel, and that was spinning wonderful fast, and twirling that’s tail. And as that span that sang:

‘Nimmy nimmy not
My name’s Tom Tit Tot.’

Well, when the girl heard this, she felt as if she could have jumped out of her skin for joy, but she didn’t say a word.

Next day that there little thing looked so maliceful when he came for the flax. And when night came she heard that knocking against the window panes. She oped the window, and that come right in on the ledge. That was grinning from ear to ear, and Oo! that’s tail was twirling round so fast.

‘What’s my name?’ that says, as that gave her the skeins.

‘Is that Solomon?’ she says, pretending to be afeard.

‘Noo, ’tain’t,’ that says, and that came further into the room.

‘Well, is that Zebedee?’ says she again.

‘Noo, ’tain’t,’ says the impet. And then that laughed and twirled that’s tail till you couldn’t hardly see it.

‘Take time, woman,’ that says; ‘next guess, and you’re mine.’ And that stretched out that’s black hands at her.

Well, she backed a step or two, and she looked at it, and then she laughed out, and says she, pointing her finger at it:

‘Nimmy nimmy not
Your name’s Tom Tit Tot.’

Well, when that heard her, that gave an awful shriek and away that flew into the dark, and she never saw it any more.

A young maiden becomes indebted to a strange-looking beast. He makes a deal to leave her alone if she can guess his name within 30 days. If she cannot guess his name, she will belong to him. She agrees and tries to guess his name. On the eve of the 30th day, her husband tells her of the strange beast he saw in the forest singing, “Nimi mini not, my name is Tom Tit Tot.” She is overjoyed and the next day she guesses the beast’s name. The beast screams and runs off into the forest, never to be seen again.


Tom Tit Tot is one of the best folk-tales that have ever been collected, far superior to any of the continental variants of this tale with which I am acquainted. It is a name-guessing story, a “survival” of the superstition that to know a man’s name gives you power over him, for which reason savages object to tell their names. It may be necessary to explain that Tom Tit can only be referred to as “that,” because his name is not known till the end.

Like his distant cousin Rumplestiltskin, Tom Tit Tot is a small, magical creature who offers to help a young woman with her impossible sewing requirements. In the kind of comedy of errors that can only occur in English folk tales, the heroine eats too many pies, marries a king who has eyes only for her spinning wheel, and makes a deal to save her life. The only question is, can she guess her benefactor’s name and prevent trading one form of servitude for another?