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

§ 17. Stockton

But the interest created by the appearance of Marjorie Daw was mild compared with that accorded to Frank R. Stockton’s The Lady or the Tiger? (1884). Stockton (1834–1902) had not the technique of Aldrich nor his naturalness and ease. Certainly he had not his atmosphere of the beau monde and his grace of style, but in whimsicality and unexpectedness and in that subtle art that makes the obviously impossible seem perfectly plausible and commonplace, he surpassed not only him but Edward Everett Hale and all others. After Stockton and The Lady or the Tiger? it was realized even by the uncritical that short story writing had become a subtle art and that the master of its subtleties had his reader at his mercy.

The best of Stockton’s short work is to be found in his Negative Gravity, The Transferred Ghost, The Remarkable Wreck of the “Thomas Hyke,” and The Late Mrs. Null. It is like nothing else in American literature: everywhere paradox presented with the utmost gravity, everywhere topsy-turviness and anticlimax and the grotesquely unexpected. There is little of substance in it all; it is opéra bouffe, amusing, delightful, ephemeral. Even now Stockton is remembered only for The Lady or the Tiger? and the present generation considers even that story clumsy work when compared with the creations of his successor, O. Henry.