Adventures in Reading

Frederick B. Perkins on the Short Story

“My idea is, that a good short story possesses all the merits of a long one, and others of its own besides. A short story, in short, is to a long one what a diamond is to a mountain,” says Frederick B. Perkins in the author’s preface to Devil-Puzzlers and Other Studies from 1877. This excerpt from What is the short story? by Current-García and Patrick provides interesting comments on the short story as well as a response, even disagreement, to Poe’s earlier statements.

I love this description of the short story: “what a diamond is to a mountain” — it is very suitable. I believe Perkins is attempting to move away from the hierarchy and instead is drawing the conclusion that both the long and short story are unique in their own rights. A diamond in particular is “the hardest naturally occurring substance” and can be “cut in many ways to enhance the internal reflection and refraction of light, producing jewels of sparkling brilliance” (Oxford Dictionary).

Short stories are often dense and multi-layered works. A reader may dig and dig through a short tale and almost continually find new deposits of information. Simultaneously, the edited and final version of a work often “enhance the internal reflection and refraction” of the story “producing jewels of sparking brilliance.” If nothing else, the short story is a concentrated and filtered piece.

Perkins goes on to say “Like a lyric song, or a single melody, a really fine short story … is the production of a faculty lofty, unique and rare. It is a thing of power or beauty or fantastic pleasure, as truly and as fully as an oration, a melody, a picture, a statue, an edifice. It is at least, as much as any of them the visible appreciable embodiment of the knowledge, wisdom, brightness and love which are in the writer’s soul. It is intrinsically as valuable, and as much contains the seeds of usefulness and power, and has the signs and certificates of immortality and fame, as any other thing that is made.”

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