Many famous authors known mostly for their novels also penned a number of short stories.
They may have started their writing careers with brief fiction, and may have continued to compose stories after turning to novels. They wrote stories for the money, to try different genres, to explore themes they felt wouldn’t work as well in the longer novel format, to take a “breather” from novels, etc.
All this came to mind last week while reading a collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s stories. Fitzgerald is of course best known for his small canon of novels — The Great Gatsby obviously being the most famous — but he also sold about 160 pieces of short fiction to magazines during his 44-year life. Fitzgerald even used some of his stories — such as the compelling “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” about a “baby” born old who grows younger — to delve into fantasy or supernatural themes almost entirely absent from his novels.
Fitzgerald’s stories include those, such as the poignant “Babylon Revisited” and the barbed “Bernice Bobs Her Hair,” with themes (spoiled/rich characters, troubled relationships, social competition, lots of drinking, etc.) reminiscent of his long fiction. Then there’s the eye-opening “The Diamond as Big as the Ritz,” about the world’s wealthiest family trying to keep their existence secret in a remote area of Montana. It’s a creepy/fascinating/memorable tale, unfortunately lessened by blatant racism that can’t be excused by Fitzgerald’s somewhat-satiric approach.
Leo Tolstoy, author of the classic novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, also wrote some amazing short fiction — some of it just long enough to edge into novella territory. The snowy “Master and Man,” the melancholy “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” the dramatic “The Kreutzer Sonata,” the history-tinged “Hadji Murat,” etc.
Herman Melville’s main claim to fame is the iconic Moby-Dick and other novels, but he also penned memorable/wide-ranging short fiction — including the slavery saga “Benito Cereno,” the sublimely disturbing office tale “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” and the droll “I and My Chimney.”
In addition to writing terrific novels such as The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton penned some very absorbing short stories that included a number of excellent ghost tales.
Other deceased novelists who wrote excellent short fiction include James Baldwin, Honoré de Balzac, Willa Cather, Kate Chopin, George Eliot, Graham Greene, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway, Zora Neale Hurston, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Jack London, Gabriel García Márquez, W. Somerset Maugham, Carson McCullers, Rabindranath Tagore, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, and Richard Wright, among many others.
Prominent living novelists who have successfully gone down the short-story road include Isabel Allende, Margaret Atwood, Lee Child, Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Alice Walker, to name just a few. Lahiri hit the Pulitzer Prize jackpot with her Interpreter of Maladies story collection, which preceded her novels The Namesake and The Lowland. I love Kingsolver’s Homeland and Other Stories and Atwood’s Wilderness Tips collection. And the title tale of Atwood’s Stone Mattress collection is a gripping piece of fiction.
Of course, there are also authors who have produced novels that are basically an assemblage of related stories: Sherwood Anderson (Winesburg, Ohio), Isaac Asimov (I, Robot), Ray Bradbury (The Martian Chronicles), Elizabeth Gaskell (Cranford), Amanda Moores (Grail Nights), Elizabeth Strout (Olive Kitteridge)…
Some of your favorite writers known mainly for novels but who’ve also done plenty of short stories?
My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — about my town’s mixed environmental record — is here.