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Short Fiction: Co-texts and Contexts

University of Leuven, 4-5-6 May 2017

Since the emergence of the modern short story as a distinct literary form in the second half of the nineteenth century, many critics and writers have sought to decide what it is exactly that distinguishes the short story from longer fiction, such as the novella or the novel – Is it length? Conciseness? A specific thematic concern? Or a particular stylistic feature? The matter has not yet been settled. Perhaps we need to look to more circumstantial, material elements for a pragmatic answer to that question. Indeed, one could argue that one of the discerning features of the short story is that it is rarely if ever published separately. Instead, it appears as one text among others, whether in a newspaper or magazine, an anthology or collection, a short story cycle or sequence, on a website or in a twitter feed. Precisely these different formats and contexts of publication have also been instrumental in the birth and development of the modern short story as we know it today. As several critics have argued, the short story rose to fame as a new and fashionable literary form in the 19th century thanks to the boom in the periodical press. Similarly, its decline in popularity in the second half of the 20th century correlates with the decimation of magazines willing to publish short fiction. And one could argue that the renewed interest in short fiction today is related to the proliferation of new publishing opportunities through digital media.

This necessary co-textuality of the short story or the different contexts in which it is published and read are slowly receiving more critical attention. Dean Baldwin’s Art and Commerce in the British Short Story: 1880-1950  documents the rise and fall of British short fiction through a study of its modes of publication. Other studies address the processes of unification and collection that go into the making of short story cycles, anthologies or collections, while the interactions between short fiction and new (digital) media formed the topic of the previous ENSFR conference.

This third annual ENSFR conference wants to further explore the many different ways in which short fiction interacts with its co-texts and contexts in different literary traditions.