decorated initial 'I'n addition to being one of the most acknowledged masters of the short-story, Poe was also one of the first to theorise about this literary genre. In his review of Hawthorne's Twice-Told Tales, Poe defined some of the tenets of the short-story that have since become canonical. It is particularly meaningful that he described the features of the short-story as opposed to those attached to other genres, such as the poem or novel. He emphasized that "the unity of effect or impression is a point of the greatest importance [and how] this unity cannot be thoroughly preserved in productions whose perusal cannot be completed at one sitting" (46). In this respect, Poe objected to the novel mainly because of its length, which "deprives itself of the immense force derivable from totality" (47). Thus, he favoured the tale instead of the poem or the novel because it is by means of its brevity that "the author is enabled to carry out the fullness of his intention [and it is during the hour of its perusal that] the soul of the reader is at the writer's control" (47).

Poe also argued that because of what he called "the preestablished design," the tale allows the reader "a sense of the fullest satisfaction" (47), which cannot be attributed to the novel, in which "worldly interests intervening during the pauses of perusal, modify, annul, or counteract, in a greater or less degree, the impressions of the book" (47). Poe concedes "Truth is often . . . the aim of the tale" (47), and as opposed to the poem, the prose tale joins "a vast variety of modes or inflections of thought and expression" (48). All of Poe's characteristics of the short story apply to the thematic transposition from novel to tale, precisely because Poe was concerned with defining the main features of the tale that differentiate it from other genres. In any case, the most idiosyncratic feature attached to the tale is the "unity of effect," or using Reid's terminology, "the unity of impression" (47).

According to Valerie Shaw, "if this is so, then narrative method [in the short-story] is likely to be strung to a correspondingly high pitch" (49). This claim seems particularly true of Poe's story "The Pit and the Pendulum," which he completed by the summer of 1842. In terms of plot, this is the tale that bears a closer resemblance with Bulwer-Lytton's Paul Clifford. Shaw goes on to define Poe's tale as "the most celebrated instance of narrative wrenched away from the gradually emerging patternings characteristic of longer fiction" (49). Through "The Pit and the Pendulum," we gradually discover that the nameless narrator is imprisoned as a victim of the Spanish Inquisition, although we never discover the reason for his imprisonment. As opposed to this, the uncommitted theft which ultimately leads to Paul Clifford's undeserved incarceration serves the purpose of highlighting the inappropriateness of the English Penal Code to question, by extension, the effectiveness of the current English system of justice. Thus, the underlying basis of Bulwer-Lytton's novel is the development of a thesis, whereas Poe focuses on the effect his tale attains. In "The Pit and the Pendulum," Poe "eliminates variables of time, character and the outside world, choosing instead to deepen progressively an initial impression of terror" (Shaw 50).

While reading Bulwer-Lytton's novel, one often feels the "gratifying sensation that we are accompanying characters in a journey from which some knowledge is to be gained" (Hernáez: 2003, 13), whereas Poe's tales often lead us to the uncertain feeling that reality proves intelligible and overwhelming. Bulwer-Lytton's detailed account of Poe's similar theme gives us a sense of order and control over reality. On the other hand, Poe's tales, and all short-stories, by extension, focus rather on the intense grip produced on the reader. Thus, not only the treatment but also the aim differs from novel to tale. Bulwer-Lytton's Paul Clifford provides the illusion of completeness and continuity through the generous amount of information allowed by its length. Poe's tales sacrifice the richness of characterisation and exhaustive information for the sake of the last turn. As María Jesús Hernáez states "the ending in the short story is not exclusion, but inclusion" (30). The ending of Bulwer-Lytton's novel is an epilogue rather than a conclusion, whereas with Poe's tales, especially in the case of "The Pit and the Pendulum,."the final salvation of the tormented narrator reveals a trick or surprise ending. In other words, Poe's tales open possibilities at the end, Bulwer-Lytton's novel closes them.

In addition, Poe's tales focus on a single centre of interest, while Bulwer-Lytton's novel develops different loci of attention through a series of episodes. That is, Bulwer-Lytton's novel masters the continuity, while Poe's tales master the instant. Through all of Poe's tales, a concentration, a reduction of spatial and temporal scope is conveyed, "starting from the assumption that the short story develops an idea and the novel a process" (36). As pointed out before, Poe's tales usually exclude variables of causality and context for the sake of effect. Through Bulwer-Lytton's Paul Clifford, the centre of attention constantly shifts from one place to another, from Paul's stylish society to Captain Lovett's reprobate endeavours. Paul develops through the novel as a character, conveying a sense of gradual passage of time, whereas in Poe's tales the rhythm is usually hectic and moves forward towards its own dénouement. Bulwer-Lytton's novel provides us with accurate portraits and exhaustive descriptions, whereas some carefully selected traits are enough to describe Poe's characters. In any case, as Norman Friedman has argued, the fact that "a short story cannot deal with the growth of character, as has also been frequently done" (132) should be defied. There is, though, a generic difference in the approach to description. Characterisation tends to be more visual in Bulwer-Lytton, who generally focuses on the appearance of the characters, while Poe is rather concerned with describing their sensations, or even, referring to some physical traits in order to describe their more inner nature.

Taking into consideration these different variables that characterise both Bulwer-Lytton's novel and Poe's tales, the effect on the reader is also worth remarking. In this respect, it has often been argued that

the main aim of the novel is apparently to 'satisfy' the reader with fiction. The reader of short stories, in contrast, is led to ponder on the meaning of what has been presented. Reading a novel involves primarily identification, reading a short story involves primarily reflection. The first is based on expectation and recognition, the second is a pact between showing and discovering. (Hernáez 2003: 47)

Bulwer-Lytton's novel follows, using Bates' terminology, the accepted convention of explaining everything, which characterised the nineteenth-century novel (Hernáez 2003: 48). Thus, Paul Clifford, despite inaugurating Bulwer-Lytton's series of Newgate novels, provides the reader with certainty and guidance through its lengthy narration. Poe's tales, through their brevity to be perused at one sitting and their necessarily fragmented nature, cause the opposite effect. In this respect, Bulwer-Lytton's novel accounts for a social portrait of reality, even if from its margins, whereas Poe's tales offer an exposition of a particular perception of reality, moving towards subjectivity. The Victorian novel provided a well-rounded and completed narration, through linearity, as if resembling a sphere, "a short-story's end is in its beginning" (Hunter 138). Paul Clifford focuses on complexity and redundancy, whereas Poe's tales dwell on a limited amount of information and limiting viewpoint. In that respect, Nadine Gordimer has argued that, even though the novel offers a more generous portrait of reality, it is through the short story that "experience is more truthfully conveyed."(Hernáez 2003: 54), since in real life, we hardly ever have the sense of exerting a total control over our own reality. On the other hand, the particular vision and detached nature often attached to the short-story have traditionally defined it as a suitable form for the fantastic. It seems plausible that the intensiveness and symbolic nature of Poe's tales are better achieved through the short story. Actually, as Mary Rohberger points out, "The short story derives from the romantic tradition. The metaphysical view that there is more to the world than that which can be apprehended through the senses provides the rationale for the structure of the short story which is the vehicle for the author's probing of the nature of the real" (81).

It has often been argued that short story technique differs significantly from that of the novel because "the information provided in the short story does not originate from rationality, but from perception of the senses" (41). In any case, Poe's tales, as opposed to Bulwer-Lytton's novel, usually present experience closer to our perception of it, and thus, according to Genette's terminology, Bulwer-Lytton's omniscient narrator turns into a homodiegetic, or even, an autodiegetic narrator. Bulwer-Lytton's novel and Poe's tales resemble each other in terms of topic and style while they differ in their treatment in development of characters, restrictions of time and place, the complexity of the plot, the emphasis on facts and ideas, and obviously, their differing taste for synthesis. Alberto Moravia successfully summarises the features attached to both the novel and the short story claiming that

so the short story is distinguished from the novel in the following ways: non-ideological characters of whom we get foreshortened and tangential glimpses in accord with the needs of an action limited in time and place; a very simple plot, even nonexistent in some short stories — when they become prose poems — and in any case one that gets its complexity from life and not from the orchestration of some kind of ideology; psychology in function of facts, not of ideas; technical procedures intended to provide in synthesis what, in the novel, needs long and extended analysis. [151]

Related Material

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Last modified 28 June 2006