Joyce, Poe, and Other Short Stories

…watching the evening invade the avenue.”

That’s from Eveline, a short story by James Joyce. I didn’t know that until this morning, when I read my fourth email from Highbrow, a magnificent entity that sends out bite-sized portions of its ‘courses’. My chosen subjects are great cities and short stories; the latter is working out just peachy so far.

I’ve never loved short stories. In fact, I haven’t really delighted in any since Chekhov’s, which I read when I was a teeny 10-year-old borrowing the hardest books I could find from my grandmother’s local library to alleviate the heaviness of summer in a bungalow with two siblings. I remember sitting on a hill overlooking the sea, thinking about the lady with her little dog.

My issue with modern short stories has always been that there isn’t enough beginning, middle and end. I’m left unsatisfied. They’re the one-liner of the literary world: a cheap laugh for punters with short attention spans. They just try so hard to be clever.

I’ll classify modern as post-Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl (1979). Now those are some short stories. The shortness only adds to their stark brutality – you’re left feeling like perhaps the monster is lingering still, following you to the next tale.

I’ve enjoyed every one of the short stories I’ve so far been served by Highbrow, to my surprise. It shouldn’t be a surprise, really. After all, they’re old. Poe, Joyce, de Maupassant. Some are translated, giving us that delightfully OTHER tone that manages to escape through translators’ careful fingers.

Five minutes a day of complete immersion in another time and place. It’s so blissful.

Favourite bits

They trod noiselessly upon a stair carpet that its own loom would have forsworn. It seemed to have become vegetable; to have degenerated in that rank, sunless air to lush lichen or spreading moss that grew in patches to the staircase and was viscid under the foot like organic matter.

The Furnished Room, O. Henry

The drawing-room was small, full of heavy draperies and discreetly fragrant. A large fire burned in the grate and a solitary lamp at one end of the mantelpiece threw a soft light on the two persons who were talking. She, the mistress of the house, was an old lady with white hair, but one of those old ladies whose unwrinkled skin is as smooth as the finest paper, and scented, impregnated with perfume, with the delicate essences which she had used in her bath for so many years. He was a very old friend, who had never married, a constant friend, a companion in the journey of life, but nothing more.

The Log, Guy de Maupassant

Mrs. Harding was a gentle, sad-eyed woman, lacking a left foot.

A Vine on a House, Ambrose Bierce

New words

Demirep: a woman whose chastity is considered doubtful

Fugacious: tending to disappear, fleeting

Girt: surrounded, encircled (past participle of gird)

Cilia: slender protuberances that project from a larger body (from the Latin for eyelash)


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