Several years ago I decided to read one short story each week and write about it. Knowing I'm going to write about a book always keeps me a little more focused. I toyed with the idea of doing so again and have decided that I am very much in a short story (and novella mood), so I'm going to try and devote my Sundays to reading short stories. Surely one a week is manageable? And if I read more than one a week all the better. And if I miss a week, that's okay, too, as this is meant to be an enjoyable task not a slog.
I have access to an abundance of short stories, though in keeping with my plans to read from my own shelves I think I won't lack choice. On more than one occasion I've shared lists and asked for recommendations. I think I'll just read at whim and randomly dip into different collections and read stories by different authors. I will definitely be reading more by Alice Munro this year, and want to finish a collection or two that I started last year. I always enjoy reading Daphne du Maurier's stories and hope to read more by her in general. After reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's novella, May Day, I think I'll be revisiting his work, too. And there are all sorts of anthologies that look quite tempting as well.
But to start with I've pulled Persephone Books #100 volume off the shelf to kick off my Sundays of short stories, The Persephone Book of Short Stories. I believe a number of the stories have appeared in the Persephone Biannually (prior to this I think the magazine was published quarterly?), but as I do not have a complete set of the magazines (and no doubt there are other short story selections included) I'm happy to have the collection on my shelves. Well, I'm happy to have any and all of their books on my shelves (have been adding volumes slowly, which is why I was so disappointed to have realized I read so few last year--will certainly change that this year). The collection has thirty stories, which are organized chronologically and the authors range from recognizable Persephone writers such as Dorothy Whipple, Dorothy Canfield Fisher and Mollie Panter-Downes to new-to-me writers like Diana Athill (have recently, however, bought a collection by her alone) and Margaret Bonham.
I'm quite excited to read the collection. If the rest of the stories are anything like the first, then I'm certainly going to be in for a treat. Susan Glaspell was born in Iowa (and as a fellow Midwesterner I should have read her long ago really). She began her career as a society reporter and then turned to political journalism according to the brief biography included in the collection. Along with novels she also wrote a number of plays and was an actress herself.
"From A to Z", written in 1909, opens the collection. It's a story of yearning and disappointment. It's about love given and returned but lost or maybe simply unobtainable nonetheless. Newly graduated from the university Edna Willard dreams of working in a publishing house.
"She was to have a roll-top desk--probably of mahogany--and a big chair which whirled round like that in the office of the undergraduate dean. She was to have a little office all by herself, opening on a bigger office--the little one marked 'Private'. There were to be beautiful rugs--the general effect not unlike the library at the University Club--books and pictures and cultivated gentlemen who spoke often of Greek tragedies and the Renaissance."
Instead she finds herself working in a small office (not even a whole building on its own), looking down not on Michigan Avenue but unknown Dearborn Street in a space she likens to a box factory. No big chair and no mahogany desk and certainly not a private office. And instead of editing literary works she finds herself engaged in the making of a new dictionary. With a paste pot and two older dictionaries for reference she sits at a desk modernizing the definitions and reminded that she must be careful not to infringe on copyright.
Next to her sits Mr. Clifford, who watches Edna's childlike absorption in her work reminded of his own youthful enthusiasms.
"...the man at the next table was far from young now. His mouth had never quite parted with boyishness, but there was more white than black in his hair, and the lines about his mouth told that time, as well as forces more ageing than time, had laid a heavy hand upon him. "
There's something infinitely sad about Mr Clifford but Edna thinks of him with tenderness, so different than the other men she knows. Fragile in health yet with a passion beneath the surface hinting at better times in former years, he bgins to call Edna Miss Noah after she mistakenly called him Mr. Webster one day. The two send notes back and forth in the form of definitions.
"'AP-PRE-CI-ATION, n. That sentiment inspired in Mr. Webster by the kind invitation of Miss Noah for Friday evening."
Edna's quiet overtures are kindly rebuffed by Mr. Clifford even if it's obvious he'd like nothing more than to say yes. It's not a case of unrequited love but of love afraid of being given to one so young and healthy by one damaged in body if not in soul.
Glaspell is known as a writer working in the realist vein and "From A to Z" certainly reflects that. It's a case of wanting to to love and take chances despite having the odds against you, but then having life get in the way unexpectedly. I will certainly continue reading from this collection, if I do next week, up next will be Katherine Mansfield's "The Black Cap."