Short Stories Magazine

Robin Hemley
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  • PRICE: 25 cents, $2.50 a year
  • CONTRIBUTORS: J. Henry Shorthouse, Guy de Maupassant, G. D. Wetherbee, Mary Moncure Parker, Ludovic Halévy, Wm. Thomson, León de Tinseau, Michel Raymond, Grace Schuyler, Richard Linthicum, Hugh A. Wetmore, George D’Esparbès, Paul Heyse.

David Hamilton, editor of the Iowa Review, recently gave me a tattered and crumbling copy of the September 1895 issue of Short Stories magazine. As I perused the magazine’s table of contents, I felt overjoyed by the implied posthumous (and possibly prehumous) misfortune suffered by its contributors. Of the thirteen authors represented, I knew the work of only one, Guy de Maupassant. Perhaps, I thought, I’d have the chance to rescue one or two of the other writers who had sunk into anonymity in the proceeding hundred years. “Joy soon turned to disappointment,” I’m tempted to write, infected as I am now by the idiom of much of the writing in this long-ago literary offering. It’s too easy to judge from more than a century’s remove the foibles and prejudices and fads of the past. A century from now, our own foibles and fads will be evident and most of us obscure to the point of leaving only faint traces in crumbling magazines. Not to depress you. But I doubted there’d be much that would appeal to a contemporary reader.

The first story in the magazine, “The Children of the Moccasin,” was an “Indian legend” told by a narrator who heard it firsthand from “Mother-River.” In this sad little tale of love potions and betrayal, the characters speak as though they came from the Tribe of King James: “‘Shall I save thee, Little Squirrel?’ I cried, Mother-River went on.” There were two other such stories—the best (and I use that word advisedly) tells of beating off the savage Apaches after they kidnap the son of a guide. A third, narrowly edging out “The Children of the Moccasin” for most patronizing tale, has an old Indian giving his life for the engineer of a steam locomotive whom he worships as “The Master of the Steam.” On the plus side, the magazine has a more international flavor than most literary magazines today—America looked much more toward Europe in 1895 than it does now. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find international offerings in most literary magazines in the U.S. (there are exceptions, such as the fine magazine Manoa, from Hawai’i, edited by Frank Stewart). Only the tiniest fraction of non-English-language literature is translated into English for our current reading pleasure. Even that which is translated is often forgotten.

For example, German author Paul Heyse was completely unknown to me before I picked up this magazine— even though he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1910. The story after “The Children of the Moccasin” is titled “The Circus Rider, A Tragedy of Bohemia.” This one, a tale of infidelity and revenge, takes a wide view of human events. Most are told omnisciently and the characters seem moved not so much by personal motivations, memories, and experience as by Grand Passions. Freud had just copublished Studies in Hysteria, in 1895, and even the best stories in this volume treat the mind’s interior as mostly uncharted wilderness. Who expresses Grand Passions better than the French? Of the thirteen stories here, four are translated from French, two have Napoleon as a major character (in the story by Heyse, Napoleon figures as an offstage ghost), one taking place on Corsica and another on the Austrian front. In a time before television and film, Napoleon was one of the superstars of the century, but three stories in one issue of a monthly? Well, I never tire of “The Shorn One.” That’s apparently what his troops called him, that and “the Other” because they were so awed by him.

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