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[391] Madame Celestin's Divorce, with its delicious humour and its glimpse into the feminine heart, are among the few unquestioned masterpieces of American short story art.

The local colour vogue during the period undoubtedly was an element toward the making of the American fictional unit short. He who would deal with the social regime of a provincial neighbourhood must of necessity be brief. There was no background of established manners in the comers of America, or in the centres, for that matter, sufficient to afford material for a Richardson or a Thackeray. Harte and Charles Egbert Craddock and most of the others attempted novels and failed. One may make a moving drama of the culminating moment in Mother Shipton's or Tennessee's life, but a complete novel written about either of them would be only a succession of picaresque adventures. The short story was peculiarly the vehicle for recording American life, so squalid, yet so glorious and moving, during the era when the country had no manners but only the rudiments of what were to become manners.

Beginning about 1898 with the early work of O. Henry and Jack London, there has come what may be called the last period in the history of the short story—the work of the present day. It is the period of magazines devoted wholly to short stories, of syndicates which handle little else, of text books and college courses on the art of the short story, and even of correspondence courses in which the art of making marketable stories may be learned through the mails. In America the short story seems to have become an obsession.

The demand of the decade has been for ‘stories with a punch.’ The material must be out of the ordinary; it must not only breathe the breath of unfamiliar regions but it must give the impression that it is a bit of autobiography, or at least a section of life that has passed under the author's own eyes. The short story work of F. Hopkinson Smith (1838– 1915)1 may be taken as an illustration. There is in it the breath of foreign parts, the sense of cosmopolitanism, breezy knowledge of the world. Everywhere alertness, wideawakeness, efficiency, in an easy colloquial style of narrative that has about it a businesslike ring. His brilliant narratives in such

1 See also Book III, Chap. XI.

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