A new history of the origins of the American short story and its relationship to theatrical performance culture

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The Drama of the American Short Story, 18001865 argues that to truly understand the short story form, one must look at how it was shaped by the lively, chaotic, and deeply politicized world of 19th-century transatlantic theater and performance culture. By resurrecting long-neglected theatrical influences on representative works of short fiction, Michael J. Collins demonstrates that it was the unruly culture of the stage that first energized this most significant of American art forms. Whether it was Washington Irving’s first job as theater critic, Melville’s politically controversial love of British drama, Alcott’s thwarted dreams of stage stardom, Poe and Lippard’s dramatizations of peculiarly bloodthirsty fraternity hazings, or Hawthorne’s fascination with automata, theater was a key imaginative site for the major pioneers of the American short story.

The book shows how perspectives from theater studies, anthropology, and performance studies can enrich readings of the short-story form. Moving beyond arbitrary distinctions between performance and text, it suggests that this literature had a social life and was engaged with questions of circumatlantic and transnational culture. It suggests that the short story itself was never conceived as a nationalist literary form, but worked by mobilizing cosmopolitan connections and meanings. In so doing, the book resurrects a neglected history of American Federalism and its connections to British literary forms.

Michael J. Collins is Senior Lecturer in Twentieth-Century American Literature and Culture at King's College, London.

“A pleasure to read…. Collins’ textual analyses are strong and persuasive and I was impressed by the energy and depth of knowledge evinced by the book.”
—Sarah Chinn, Hunter College

"The indisputable value of Collins’s study lies in opening up a truly novel perspective by his equally erudite and energetic argument for the dramatic qualities of antebellum short fiction... Collins’s stupendous knowledge of circumatlantic political, socio-economic, and cultural interrelations allows him to situate these texts within the tensions of the antebellum period and thereby to bring to life the complexities that inform them."
Amerikastudien/American Studies

- Jochen Achilles