Fiction

Introduction


After some general talk about fiction, we’ll be discussing “Odour of Chrysthanemums” by D.H. Lawrence. It is a wonderful example of all that the short fiction can be. But be prepared for things to go from bad to worse in a hurry. Lawrence (1885-1930) was himself  the child of a miner from Nottinghamshire, England.

*This is the title of a collection of stories. Use the table of contents, which should be linked to go to the section beginnings. In this one “Odour of Chrysanthemums” is the last story.


Timely hint: if you read slowly, you may want to start Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man right now. Scroll down for details.


Point of View

We will look back at the D. H. Lawrence story, whose third-person-limited point of view is so often seen that readers hardly notice how effective it is. Then we’ll explore some other PoV strategies in the short stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Virginia Woolf. We’ll also discuss point of view in other pieces of well-known fiction.


Character

We’ll read two examples of especially memorable characters.  Pay attention to how each author builds (characterizes) these almost-living figures. First is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown,” a short story in which the author touches on themes he returns to in his famous novel, The Scarlet Letter.  Next we will explore a work from one of the creators of the modern short story, Anton Chekhov: “The Lady with the Dog.” (Or “lap dog” or “toy dog,” depending on the translator.) His protagonist, Gurov, eats a watermelon slice like the coldest man alive, but is his character static, or dynamic?


Setting

The setting may be unremarkable background in fiction, or it may be at the heart of the story.

*There is a sequel to this called “The Storm,” also a fine study in setting, but it was not published until long after Chopin’s death and too recently to be in the public domain. Suffice it to say that it’s not all  sunny weather in the Calixta-Bobinot relationship.


Theme

Theme in literature is any idea that is prominent–something the author invites the reader to thinking about. There are several themes in this longer story by James Joyce, part of his 1914 collection, Dubliners. On the hundredth anniversary of its publication, a writer for the New York Times called “The Dead” “just about the finest short story in the English language.”

Joyce, James. “The Dead” from Dubliners. Project Gutenberg.


Longer Fiction

We will read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. Published in 1916 it falls very near the end of the US public domain period, which is one reason we encounter Joyce three times in this unit. We’ll be talking a lot about Joyce’s innovations in first-person narration, about coming-of-age stpries in general, about themes of transformation and identity, and much more

Joyce, James. Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Project Gutenberg.


Speculative Fiction

We will close out the fiction unit on the nerdy side.

*The copyright status of many of Lovecraft’s well-known works is unclear, but their presence online is not contested, and the consensus is that the author would have approved of such sharing.

Here is some optional reading about a subject that will may come up when we discuss Lovecraft, though it’s not as evident in this story as it is in some (“Call of Cthulhu,” for instance): “It’s OK to Admit that H.P. Lovecraft was Racist.”