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The Modern Short Story
Essay Collection
Page Count
Word Count
Michael Joseph
Modern Reading
Publication Year
Document Types
Literary Criticism
Short Story

London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1941 (July).
New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1941 (December).
2nd edition, London: Michael Joseph, 1972 (with new preface, attached).
Dedication: "to A.J.J. Ratcliff."

The publication was a point of contention with Bates's long-term publisher Jonathan Cape, with whom he had agreed to consult before publishing elsewhere.

In his only book-length and indexed work of literary criticism, Bates discusses writers principally from Russia, the United States, France, and Ireland, and in doing so pays homage to his own chief literary influences. In ten chapters, he explores the strengths and weaknesses of writers from Nicolai Gogol and Edgar Allan Poe to the new crop of English and Welsh writers of the early 1940s. He writes enthusiastically of the American tradition that includes Bret Harte, Ambrose Bierce, Sarah Orne Jewett, O. Henry, and Jack London, dwelling particularly on Stephen Crane, before a central chapter in which he compares Chekhov and Maupassant in such aspects as moral content, compassion, simplicity of construction, and the demands they each place upon the reader. Briefly discussing Tolstoy, Wells, and Kipling, he proceeds with greater enthusiasm to Katherine Mansfield, A.E. Coppard, Joyce's Dubliners, and the American renaissance of Sherwood Anderson, Hemingway, Faulkner, Katherine Ann Porter, and William Saroyan. He closes with an appreciation of D.H. Lawrence and a roster of contemporary English authors writing after the first world war.

In the course of these literary portraits, Bates explores the elements of a fine short story, and thus states his own deeply-felt goals as a writer: simplicity, implication rather than description, absence of moral teaching, and a high responsibility placed on the reader.

In the original preface, he pointedly excludes his own work from discussion, wishing instead to conduct "a critical survey of the modern short story as a whole" and not focus on his stories or methods. In the preface to the 1972 edition (attached), Bates notes his mistaken prophecy of a renaissance for the form after the second World War; he decries the "era of the Angry Young Men, the Permissive Society or the Parade of Pornography" and especially what he calls the school of "tell all," which he considers antithetical to the spirit of the short story.

The reviewer in the Times Literary Supplement praises Bates as being "acute and unfailingly enthusiastic: he writer with lively imagination, and in combining criticism with literary history he is able to put forward a view of the evolution of the short story that carries wide and pointed suggestion."

Excerpts from the volume have been published elsewhere, notably:

  • An excerpt from the chapter "American Renaissance" was published with the title "A Note on Saroyan" in Modern Reading (September 1941, pp. 27-30)
  • The chapter called "Tchehov and Maupassant" was reprinted in slightly altered form with the title "Artichokes and Asparagus" in Life and Letters To-day (London, October 1941) and later in A College Book of Modern Fiction (1961)
  • An excerpt retitled 'Hemingway's Short Stories' was published in Hemingway and His Critics: An International Anthology (New York, 1961) and again in The American Short Story and Its Writer (2000)
  • The preface to the second edition was also published in Books and Bookmen (London, February, 1972)
  • Extracts pertaining to various individual authors were reprinted as follows in Short Story Criticism, Lawrence (Vol 4), Henry (Vol 5), Wells (Vol 6), Maugham (Vol 8), Bierce (Vol 9), Coppard (Vol 21), Tchehov, Guy de Maupassant and Tolstoy (Vol 63).
  • Extracts pertaining to various individual authors were also reprinted in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, namely Coppard (Vol 5) and Mansfield (Vol 8)


  • Life and Letters Today (July 1942, p. 65, A. Calder Marshall, attached)
  • New Statesman and Nation (January 10, 1942, p. 28, V.S. Pritchett, attached)
  • New York Times (March 1, 1942, p. BR8, Herbert W. Horwill, attached)
  • New York Times (January 28, 1951, p. BR3, James Stern, attached)
  • The Spectator (April 17, 1942, p. 386, attached)
  • Times Literary Supplement (January 17, 1942, p. 30, R.D. Charques, attached)
  • Sunday Times (March 1, 1942, p. 3, attached)
  • "What is the Future of the Short Story?" (essay about the book by Trish Nicholson)