SHORT FICTION IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN: FAMOUS AUTHORS, FAMOUS STORIES
The following section consists of samples of short fiction by famous authors which are currently in the public domain. Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), was a famous American writer who excelled in dramatic works of horror, and also proved himself in the fledgling genre of the detective story. Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), who wrote the novels The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables, was one of the great figures of 19th-century American literature and letters, along with the likes of Melville, Whitman, Emerson and Thoreau. His short stories were often splendidly imaginative, and permeated with a spiritual sensibility which should especially appeal to New Age audiences. HG Wells (1866-1946), was, of course, the brilliant British thinker and writer best remembered for his great works of science fiction, which explored themes such as imperialism and powerlessness (The War Of The Worlds); the socioeconomic division of mankind and the redemptive quality of compassion and love (The Time Machine); the morally corrosive nature of power (The Invisible Man); and the danger of Man stepping into the shoes of God, as well as the struggle between the values and ideals of our civilization and the legacy of our primal heritage with which it must contend (The Island of Dr. Moreau). In these fantastic tales, our world with all of its challenges, possibilities, and possible disasters, was very much present, and the heart of the matter. Wells also produced a number of interesting short stories. The Story Of The Late Dr. Elvesham, one of them, frightened me terribly as a child, so beware! Perhaps, in its way, it is a warning to the young not to let their youth and destiny be kidnapped by the old. Richard Connell (1893-1949), an American writer and journalist, is fondly remembered for his most successful tale of adventure, "The Most Dangerous Game", which inspired several movie versions. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) stands out in our minds as the inventor of Sherlock Holmes, the brilliant detective whose adventures were recorded in several novels and a host of short stories. Included, here, is a story which Conan Doyle, himself, chose as one of his favorites; it is also held in high regard by his fans. O. Henry was a pseudonym for William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), a very popular and successful American story writer of his day. The Gift Of The Magi is his best-known work, especially cherished for its irony and surprise ending, which for most of you, will probably no longer be a surprise! Seumas MacManus (1869-1960) was a wonderful Irish writer and cherisher of his native land and culture. I love him particularly for his splendid history of Irleand, Story of the Irish Race. The story included here comes from a collection of fairy tales (Donegal Fairy Tales) directed at younger readers, but entertaining for all ages (in a bit of a cynical and dark way, but then, these are the things that injustice prompts). James Joyce (1882-1941), was one of Ireland’s great writers, though his relationship with his homeland was difficult and he spent much of his life abroad. He is known particularly for his great, technically revolutionary novel Ulysses, as well as for Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Dubliners, the collection of short stories from which "The Dead" is drawn. Jack London (1876-1916), the author of The Call of the Wild, as well as an extremely successful story writer for magazines, was an American legend, a determined fighter in life who wrote himself out of poverty and seemed to his times to represent the spirit of overcoming any obstacle. He ended up a curious mix of advocate of the downtrodden, and individualist pursuer of fame and fortune. His stories abound with adventure, struggle, and nature. Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841) was a Russian poet and contemporary of Pushkin, known for his passionate, romantic, and spirited existence. As a Russian, he drew inspiration from the physical ruggedness and cultural distinctness of the Caucasus "frontier region", where he spent much of his life. True to form, he perished in a duel. The story here was taken from the novel A Hero Of Our Time, which actually consists of a string of connected tales, each of which is able to stand on its own. Franz Kafka (1883-1924), ethnically German-Jewish, was born in Prague and made scarcely a dent as a writer during his lifetime. But after his death, loyal admirers made the effort to bring his work before the public’s eye. The results were two novels, The Trial and The Castle, a classic novella entitled The Metamorphosis ("Gregor Samsa awoke one morning after a night of anxious dreaming to discover he had been transformed into a giant insect", a work which many years later would inspire Gabriel Garcia Marquez to turn his pen towards "magical realism"), and a batch of interesting and idiosyncratic short stories. Kafka excelled in the intense landscape of subjective psychological reality, bringing to life inner states such as alienation, self-loathing, self-denial, paranoia, and the sense of helplessness we sometimes feel, as well as powerfully conveying many of the indifferent aspects of society, which wound and bewilder the sensitive soul. Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), is considered one of the greatest of many great Russian writers. Besides a few famous plays such as The Cherry Orchard and The Seagull, he is especially renowned for his masterful and impactful short stories, which prove capable of covering surprising amounts of human ground in a very little space. The translations into English reproduced here are by the brilliant translator of Russian literature, Constance Garnett, who worked on a large number of Chekhov’s stories between 1916-1922.
I located many of the stories presented here on an excellent web site dedicated to the reproduction of famous literary works in several different categories (poetry, short story, novel, and the essay). I recommend it:http://www.online-literature.com The Garnett translations of Chekhov were encountered on http://chekhov2.tripod.com For world literature in the public domain, I also recommend the extraordinary Project Gutenberg , http://www.gutenberg.org Much of Kafka’s work may be found on the Kafka Project, http://www.kafka.org , while http://www.jacklondons.net is a good resource for those interested in the fiction of Jack London. The MacManus story was found on http://www.mainlesson.com , home of the "Baldwin Project", which aims to create a valuable repository of children’s literature on the Internet. http://ibiblio.org was the source of the Lermontov material.
The Pit And The Pendulum (By Edgar Allan Poe)
The Tell-Tale Heart (By Edgar Allan Poe)
The Purloined Letter (By Edgar Allan Poe)
The Birthmark (By Nathaniel Hawthorne)
The Snow Image: A Childish Miracle (By Nathaniel Hawthorne)
The Vision By The Fountain (By Nathaniel Hawthorne)
The Great Stone Face (By Nathaniel Hawthorne)
The Story Of The Late Mr. Elvesham (By HG Wells)
The Most Dangerous Game (By Richard Connell)
The Red-Headed League (By Arthur Conan Doyle)
The Gift Of The Magi (By O Henry)
Donal That Was Rich And Jack That Was Poor (By Seumas MacManus)
The Dead (By James Joyce)
To Build A Fire (By Jack London)
Taman [from A Hero Of Our Time] (By Mikhail Lermontov)
A Hunger Artist (By Franz Kafka)
The Lady With The Dog (By Anton Chekhov)
The Requiem [Also translated as "Mass For The Sinner"] (By Anton Chekhov)
In Exile (By Anton Chekhov)
The Lottery Ticket (By Anton Chekhov)
A Chameleon (By Anton Chekhov)
As time goes on, some additional stories may be added to the inventory.
The Monkey's Paw, by W.W. Jacobs (1902), is a famous short story, both suspenseful and frightening; it is a classic tale of what can go wrong when Man challenges Fate.
Lazarillo de Tormes is an anonymously written 16th-century Spanish novella about the adventures of a poor orphan boy. The following section contains some choice episodes, which have been extracted from the story.
The Monkey's Paw (By W.W. Jacobs)
Lazarillo de Tormes [Excerpts] (Anonymous)
This next cluster of stories begins with a piece by the famous American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896 – 1940). Fitzgerald is especially remembered for his classic novel The Great Gatsby, which poignantly explores the complicated relationship between the American Dream ("making it") and the Ideal of Love. He is also remembered for his flamboyant and self-destructive lifestyle, centered on the tensions created by his grand literary aspirations and what he saw as the "whoring" (popular magazine writing) he did in order to survive; his rampant alcoholism and unsustainable engagement with the "Jazz Age"/flapper era; and his troubled marriage to Zelda, a talented personality who believed he stole liberally from her own ideas ("for Fitzgerald, plagiarism begins at home") and who eventually succumbed to schizophrenia, which exacerbated the stress in both their lives. Hemingway, who was well-acquainted with Fitzgerald, considered him to be the archetypal self-destructive creator, damned by the twin curses of ambition and vulnerability. Fitzgerald’s early death at the age of 44 was the tragic but logical result of the trajectory of his life. "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (1922) is one of Fitzgerald’s magazine stories, but, as the reader will see, it is certainly no cause for self-loathing. Fitzgerald, remembering the expression (or one like it) - "it is a pity that youth is wasted on the young" - decided to take that concept, wrap it up in a fantasy, and run with it, inventing, in Benjamin Button, a character who would be born old and grow young. It is a story which could have been done in a variety of ways; but however it might have been done, the way Fitzgerald did it is surely interesting. (As of June 2008, as this work is being posted, there are reports that a major motion picture based on the story is due out by the end of the year.)
Washington Irving (1783-1859), a native New Yorker, is perhaps America’s first genuine internationally-recognized writer of fiction. He is especially remembered for his stories "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (which is presented here), and "Rip Van Winkle." His writing reflects the superior command of the English language of past times and the familiarity of bygone readers with complex prose. The modern reader will also find occasional comments which strike him/her as anything from irritating to offensive. However, these are not reflections on Washington Irving as an individual, but windows into the more generalized perspectives of his times. In this tale, superstition and the imagination are linked to a cultural divide (tension between the local and the new) and to the typical rivalries of flesh-and-blood men.
Alexander Pushkin (1795-1829) is remembered as the first great shining star of Russian literature (above the merely "good writers"). He made an enormous impact with his poetry, but also stood out for his prose, and for his plays, which not only affected the generation he belonged to, but future generations, as well, which not only continued to read and reread his works, and to stage his plays, but were also inspired to compose over twenty operas based on his creations. Pushkin lived a romantic and heartfelt life, and could not avoid the directive of his passion to die in a way that was not tame: he fell in a duel, paving the way, it seemed, for Lermontov’s similarly tragic death. The poet Tiutchev, summing up the legacy of Pushkin in the Russian consciousness, said (as though speaking to Pushkin directly, as all Russians felt they had a right to do): "You, like first love, the heart of Russia will not forget." The story presented here, "The Shot", effectively displays the psychology of honor, pride, and the imperative of self-respect which were destined to consume Pushkin, himself.
Following are two more stories of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" and "The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot." "The Speckled Band", if memory serves me correctly, was said to be the author’s favorite among all the Sherlock Holmes adventures, and also the favorite of one of his major fan clubs. Both cases involve exotic attributes, which set them apart from the ordinary police work which Sherlock Holmes was said to detest.
Finally, there are two more stories by H.G. Wells. "The Man Who Could Work Miracles" might be considered a less sinister (in fact a comic) version of "The Monkey’s Paw", in that it deals with the dangers of Man possessing power beyond that which he was born to wield; however, it deals not only with the danger but also the fear we have of our own abilities: not only the theme of wisdom, but also of self-confidence. "The Country of the Blind", in the tradition of Wells’ best works, uses a fantasy setting to produce a significant parable.
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow (Washington Irving)
The Shot (Alexander Pushkin)
The Adventure Of The Speckled Band (Arthur Conan Doyle)
The Adventure Of The Devil’s Foot (Arthur Conan Doyle)
The Man Who Could Work Miracles (H.G. Wells)
The Country Of The Blind (H.G. Wells)
Samuel Clemens AKA Mark Twain (1835-1910), the famous American writer and humorist, is especially known for his novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. His impact was great, and he most definitely imbedded himself in the history of American literature. His short stories and pieces of wit are savored by some and fail to impress others; but whatever the effect he has upon the individual, he is an undeniable part of our cultural heritage. I have included, here, two lesser known pieces, “The First Writing Machines” and “A Telephonic Conversation”, which are particularly interesting as they chronicle the arrival of new technologies in our society - the typewriter and the telephone - whose novelty to Twain is instructive to our own generation, which already regards them as ancient history as it struggles to greet innovations which the future may well regard in the same light. The Twain material concludes with the tale most commonly given to represent him in short story collections: "The Celebrated Jumping Frog Of Calaveras County", a "colorful" story of gamblers and tricksters in a boisterous young land, replete with regional dialect.
Andrew Lang (1844-1912), a Scotsman, was a famous man of letters, and scholar of folklore, anthropology and mythology. He wrote and assembled many books of fairy tales, which he put together from such well-known collectors as the Brothers Grimm, and diverse sources throughout the world. “The Story of the Fisherman and His Wife”, which appeared in his Green Fairy Book, is a classic, and follows the expected route. In doing so, it reminds us of a truth which we all know, but frequently forget. It is probably best not to dwell on the gender dynamics of the story, which critics claim reflect traditional Western prejudices of “woman as the corrupter”, but to take the fisherman’s wife to be one woman only, and the tale to be the tale of a battle which rages in all of our hearts, whether man or woman.
Emile Zola (1840-1902), was a well-respected French novelist and a social progressive who did not avoid controversy, as when he issued the famous statement: “Civilization will not attain perfection until the last stone from the last church falls on the last priest.” (This was a swipe at what he and many other intellectuals saw as the conservative tendencies and inhibiting mental effects of institutionalized religion.) Even more controversial was his prominent role in the Dreyfus affair, in which a French Jew in the army was convicted of espionage and sentenced to life in prison on Devil’s Island; Zola risked all by publishing a letter in a Paris daily, in which he took the side of Dreyfus and accused the army of anti-Semitism and obstruction of justice. He, himself, was then convicted of criminal libel, and had to flee France until the affair was finally resolved and Dreyfus pardoned. This courage to stand up for what he believed in set Zola apart from many creators, who, even to this day, will not point their pens towards justice, but prefer, instead, to bask in the goodwill of the powerful. Zola, who had a strong work ethic, once said of writing: “The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift is nothing without the work.” He combined this ethic with a faith in the process of history, whose course he was determined to help along: “The Truth is on the march, and nothing will stop it.” From Zola’s labors flowed a number of highly-praised works, including the novel Germinal, significant from both the literary and social standpoint. The story included here, “The Four Days of Jean Gourdon”, utilizes the life of an individual, glimpsed at its key moments, to lay before us the process of life, itself, in which the human spirit both battles with, and fulfills, its destiny.
The First Writing Machines (Mark Twain)
A Telephonic Conversation (Mark Twain)
The Celebrated Jumping Frog Of Calaveras County (Mark Twain)
The Story Of The Fisherman And His Wife (Andrew Lang)
The Four Days Of Jean Gourdon (Emile Zola)
Short Fiction Contents
Creative Safehouse Contents