The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

VI. The Short Story

§ 16. Aldrich

T. B. Aldrich was one. His little story Marjorie Daw was published in the Atlantic five years after Harte’s sensational début. A trivial thing it was compared with such tragedies as Tennessee’s Partner or Madame Delphine, an American humorous anecdote elaborately expanded, with a “point” at the end to be followed by laughter, yet its appearance marked a new stage in the history of the American short story. Tales already there had been that had held a sensation in the last sentence. The Amber Gods had ended with the startling words: “I must have died at ten minutes past one.” But in Marjorie Daw the device was handled with a skill that made the story a model for later writers. After Aldrich, Stockton and Bunner and O. Henry.

Aldrich brought a style to the short story as distinctive as Cable’s, a certain patrician elegance, yet a naturalness and a simplicity that concealed everywhere its art, for art is the soul of it; every sentence, every word a studied contribution toward the final effect. There is no moral, no hidden meaning, no exotic background to be displayed, no chastening tragedy; it is a mere whimsicality light as air, a bit of American comedy. The laugh comes not from what is told but from the picture supplied by the reader’s imagination. All of Aldrich’s thin repertoire of short stories is of the same texture. He may be compared with no American writer. To find a counterpart of Marjorie Daw one must go to the French—to Daudet for its whimsical lightness of touch, and to Maupassant for its exquisite technique.