Magazine
Latest Issue

A short history of the short story

The short story emerged in a blitzkrieg of 19th-century magazine publishing, reached its apotheosis with Chekhov, and became one of the great 20th-century art forms. William Boyd reveals his taxonomy of the short story, and assesses the state of the British form

By William Boyd  

Chekhov (centre, reading) is widely acknowledged as the greatest ever short story writer

Let us begin at a notional beginning. I have an image in my head of a band of Neanderthals (or some similar troupe of humanoids) hunkered round the fire at the cave-mouth as the night is drawing in. One of them says, spontaneously: “You’ll never believe what happened to me today.” Gnawed bones are tossed aside, children are quietened and the tribe gives the storyteller its full attention. The anecdote, the fond reminiscence, the protracted joke, the pointed recollection are surely the genesis of the short stories…

Register today to continue reading

You’ve hit your limit of three articles in the last 30 days. To get seven more, simply enter your email address below.

You’ll also receive our free e-book Prospect’s Top Thinkers 2020 and our newsletter with the best new writing on politics, economics, literature and the arts.

Prospect may process your personal information for our legitimate business purposes, to provide you with newsletters, subscription offers and other relevant information.

Click here to learn more about these purposes and how we use your data. You will be able to opt-out of further contact on the next page and in all our communications.

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to letters@prospect-magazine.co.uk

More From Prospect