Monday, November 13, 2017

International Short Stories: English, edited by William Patten

More clunkers than classics
W. Clark Russell
International Short Stories: English is the second volume in a trilogy of books edited by William Patten and published by P. F. Collier & Son in 1910. The first volume of the series featured American stories, and the third book French. This English volume features stories by English authors, of course, but as is often the case with these sorts of literary anthologies (as seen in Scribner’s Stories by English Authors series), the word “English” as used here is take to be synonymous with “British” as the book includes Scottish authors (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, J. M. Barrie), at least one Irish author (Samuel Lover), and perhaps a Welshman or two for all I know. Though Patten dipped back into the 19th century when editing the volume, it doesn’t appear to be intended as a Greatest British Literature of All Time anthology, but rather just a collection of what might be pleasing to a 1910 audience. With a few exceptions, most of the selections tend to be lighthearted fare that might be expected to inspire relaxing fireside chuckles.

To the 21st-century reader, the authors listed in the table of contents represent a mixture of famous immortals and obscure unknowns. In general, not surprisingly, the household names turn in the best selections. Conan Doyle is represented by a non-Sherlock Holmes piece, “The Secret of Goresthorpe Grange,” a comic tale about a recent purchaser of a medieval fortress who tries to find a ghost to haunt to place. “The Stolen Body” by H. G. Wells also deals with the paranormal, but from a more serious perspective. J. M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, provides a pair of humorous tales, “My Brother Henry” and “Gilray’s Flower Pot,” the latter of which is a hilarious yarn told by a narrator who regrets having promised to water his friend’s plants. Sir Walter Scott’s “The Two Drovers,” about two cattlemen fighting over a patch of grass, escalates into a moving drama. Charles Dickens’s “Dr. Manette’s Manuscript” is like a cross between an Edgar Allen Poe story and The Count of Monte Cristo, with a lot of Les Misérables-style invective against the nobility. Robert Louis Stevenson, William Makepeace Thackeray, and Wilkie Collins are represented by mediocre entries that are far from their best work. Rudyard Kipling’s story “The Courting of Dinah Shadd” is just plain bad, dull, and annoying, though I must confess I’ve never been a fan of his work, which always seems low on plot and loaded with tedious “atmosphere.”

Among the second-tier authors of English lit, Charles Reade’s novella-length crime story “The Knightsbridge Mystery” is admirable for its legal and psychological authenticity. “Three Thimbles and a Pea” by George Borrow is a fun look into the profession of a shell-game con man. W. Clark Russell, known for his sea stories, offers up what he knows best with “The Lazarette of the ‘Huntress,’” an engaging tale about a stowaway. It may be adventure genre fiction, but it’s probably the best selection in the book.

Though I’ve tried to point out what’s good about the collection, the fact is there’s more bad than good here. The jokes fall flat in two of S. R. Crockett’s seemingly pointless tales of country priests. Samuel Lover’s “The Burial of the Tithe” is an interminable slog through phonetically rendered Irish dialect, with little payoff. Too many of the stories settle for quaintness and cheeky laughs. There’s too few serious entries like those of Scott, Dickens, or Wells. There’s also a tendency by many of these authors to wallow in medievalism while their counterparts in France were moving on to realistic depictions of the modern world. As a whole, neither the American nor the English volumes of International Short Stories really impressed me much. A glance at the table of contents for the French volume leads me to believe it will be far superior to this one.

Stories in this collection

The Two Drovers by Sir Walter Scott
Mr. Deuceace by William Makepeace Thackeray 
The Brothers by Edward Bulmer Lytton 
Doctor Manette’s Manuscript by Charles Dickens 
The Caldron of Oil by Wilkie Collins 
The Burial of the Tithe by Samuel Lover 
The Knightsbridge Mystery by Charles Reade 
The Courting of Dina Shadd by Rudyard Kipling 
The Sire de Maletroit’s Door by Robert Louis Stevenson 
The Secret of Goresthorpe Grange by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle 
A Change of Treatment by W. W. Jacobs

The Stickit Minister by S. R. Crockett 

The Lammas Preaching by S. R. Crockett 

An Undergraduate’s Aunty by F. Anstey 

The Sillhouettes by A. T. Quiller-Couch 

My Brother Henry by J. M. Barrie 

Gilray’s Flower Pot by J. M. Barrie 

Mr. O’Leary’s Second Love by Charles Lever 

The Indifference of the Miller of Hofbau by Anthony Hope Hawkins 

The Stolen Body by H. G. Wells

The Lazarette of the ‘Huntress’” by W. Clark Russell

The Great Triangular Duel by Captain Frederick Marryat 

Three Thimbles and a Pea by George Borrow

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