'Telling Tales: Settler Fictions and the Short Story Composite' looks at the resurgence and deployment in the twentieth century of a unique form of writing, the short story composite. The short story composite is a collection of discrete, interlinked short stories that can also be read independently. Although the form has a long history, dating back to such well-known works of literature as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales and Boccaccio's Decameron, its twentieth century origins can be traced to local colour stories in colonial print culture, and the popularization of the short story collection during the modernist period. Even though it has been regarded as a marginal genre of writing, scholarly discussions of the form have burgeoned in the last quarter of the twentieth century, and writing in the form continues to be rich, diverse, and prolific. The short story has been a favourite genre of postcolonial theorists who have often invoked it as a marginal form attuned to the inclinations, expression, and nascent publishing markets of colonial writers. Yet, the short story composite expresses many difficult relations, not the least of which is its relation to the short story form.
This study considers how the short story composite might be regarded as a curious postcolonial return of a colonial and modernist genre that possesses 'shifty' attributes and demonstrates how settlers and critics have used this form in curious ways. Recent scholarly discussions of the short story composite in the twentieth century have mostly linked it to community dynamics within the nation-state, noticing that it is useful for articulating the concerns of 'the one and the many' in multicultural nations such as Canada and the USA. This thesis is a comparative study of the genre that expands the national framework of these previous projects. It notices that this genre forms an extensive literary archive in Australia, Canada, and the USA, among other settler nations, and it considers the implications of this. Because of their analytic frames, many nation-based studies of the form have been involved in one way or another with national canon-building projects, even as they have questioned standard narratives of the nation that have focused on the novel or other dominant forms of writing. This thesis makes the point that this form of writing is well-suited to articulating the legacy of settler colonialism in these three national cultures where this form has been popular. Because the genre expresses awkward affiliations of individuals to place, home, nation, culture, and history, short story composites from these three nations can be usefully positioned within the broader context of settler colonialism and its aftermath.
This thesis includes detailed readings of Margaret Laurence's A Bird in the House; William Faulkner's Go Down, Moses; Stephen Leacock's Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town' Wilderness Plots; Thea Astley's I'ts Raining in Mango; Sandra Birdsell's Night Travellers and Ladies of the House; Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried; and Tim Winton's The Turning. Alongside close readings of these short story composites, it also includes readings of the critical archive. The thesis notices how the short story composite has been taken up, for instance, as a site that is particularly serviceable to 'nation-narration' and it inquires about its role in national canon-formation. It looks at how the short story composite has been read by cultural nationalist critics, and it also considers at how second-wave feminists used and interpreted the form in the service of their 'domestic' fictions in the 1980s. It proceeds to inquire into how the form has certain links with the project of historiographical metafiction that was popularized in the 1990s as writers and postcolonial academics attempted to come to terms with the history of colonization and its aftermath, and as postmodern theory began to favour openly fictional contestations of grand-unified, celebratory narratives of the national past. Finally, it considers links between the form of the short story composite and the fractured, multiple narratives of trauma. It tracks the emergence of the 'trauma industry' in the academy, and reads trauma composites that emerge in the late twentieth century as forms that exploit and respond to the popular appetite for colonial trauma, most especially.
Many studies of the short story composite have been formalist in their nature. Other studies of the form have looked at how it expresses the needs of various 'ethnic' groups. The formalism of the first set often relies upon an old-fashioned universalism that overlooks cultural factors. Further, the dichotomy between these two sets reveals an unacknowledged racialist bias. It is no longer acceptable to view 'ethnicity' and 'race' as something only deployed or possessed by ethnic groups struggling to overcome oppression. Recent theorizing has noticed that these assumptions only reinforce dominant racial myths and stereotypes and further serve to discriminate between who is 'at home' in the nation, and who is an outsider. This suggests that it might be fruitful to also interrogate how settlers have used the form to negotiate their claims to place, their negotiations of home, their ties to community and nation, and their shifting relations to the colonial past and the imagined postcolonial future. This study seeks to bridge these two dominant forms of studying the short story composite to attend to the cultural uses of the form in settler cultures, by settlers, in their varying processes of acculturation and nation-narration and in their quest for postcolonial status (author's abstract).