Development of the Short Story



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Prof. Elizabeth Tallent

214 Margaret Jacks Hall

office hours: Tuesday 4:30-5:30

Wednesday 3:00– 5:00

and by appointment (email me and we’ll find a time)

Email: tallent@stanford.edu


Development of the Short Story: Continuity & Innovation

Spring Quarter 2016

Mon/Wed 1:30 – 2:50 pm

Building 380, Room 380C

When you read a short story, you come out a little more aware and a little more in love with the world around you. What I want is to have the reader come out just 6 per cent more awake to the world.
—George Saunders

Course Description


Welcome, all! And a warm welcome to non-English majors considering this class. Former students from a wide range of disciplines tell me that they had the chance to take only a single literature class while at Stanford, and that they found this course accessible and rewarding. As a teacher I’m aware that students who’ve never before taken an English course enter this classroom with the trepidation natural when facing a new challenge. If this is true of you, I’d like to say, first, this syllabus can give you a good sense of what this course will be like, and, second: Take a chance on these stories. They have a lot to say about what matters in our lives.

I find the short story’s capacity for illumining our experience enthralling, and see this class as a chance to explore that capacity through the dual concepts of “continuity” and “innovation” that structure our progression through the quarter. These concepts are the most useful way I’ve found for illumining the tension between the short story’s gorgeous literary inheritance and the form’s genius for addressing absolutely new perceptions about life as we live it. Guided by these paired concepts, we will approach each short story as if it is part of a brilliant, time-transcending conversation. Students in this course are seen not as passive eavesdroppers on this conversation, but as its newest voices, generating the fresh views that keep the short-story form alive and vital even as literature’s place in culture is rocked by powerful changes.


Mon 28 March “Matches struck unexpectedly in the dark”: An overview of the course’s aims and logistics and an introduction to short stories.
Wed 30 March “Just you put a patch on it”: Gogol’s uncertainty principle

Gogol, “The Overcoat”



Mon 4 Apr “An absolute manner of seeing things”: Flaubert’s realism

Flaubert, “A Simple Heart”




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