The child’s place in the democracy of the short story was assured years ago. No remarkably outstanding examples have come from the pen of Booth Tarkington, amusing as are his adolescents and children of the Red Book tales. The best combinations of humour and childhood appeared to the Committee to be “Wilfrid Reginald and the Dark Horse,” by James Mahoney, and “Mr. Downey Sits Down,” by L.H. Robbins. For laughter the reader is recommended to each of these, the latter of which is reprinted in this volume. For humour plus a trifle more of excitement, “Mummery,” by Thomas Beer, is included. Mr. Beer has succeeded in handling Mrs. Egg as Miss Addington manages Miss Titwiler, the “Cactus”; that is, as the equal of author and reader, but also—and still without condescension—as reason for twinkles and smiles.
Apart from consideration of impulses dominating the short story of 1921, impulses here summarized under the general idea of democracy, the story is different in several particulars. First, its method of referring to drink, strong drink, marks it of the present year. The setting is frequently that of a foreign country, where prohibition is not yet known; the date of the action may be prior to 1919; or the apology for presence of intoxicating liquors is forthcoming in such statement as “My cellar is not yet exhausted, you see.”
Second, the war is no longer tabu; witness “The Tribute,” and “His Soul Goes Marching On.” Touched by the patina of time and mellowed through the mellifluence of age, the war now makes an appeal dissimilar to that which caused readers two or three years ago to declare they were “fed up.”
Third, Freudian theories have found organic place in the substance of the story. They have not yet found incorporation in many narratives that preserve short story structure, however—although it is within conceivability that the influence may finally burst the mould and create a new—and the Committee agree in demanding both substance and structure as short story essentials.
Finally, the story reflects the changing ideals of a constantly changing age. Not only are these ideals changing because of cross-currents that have their many sources in racial springs far asunder, not only because of contact or conflict between the ideals and cosmic forces dimly apprehended; also they are changing because of the undeniable influence of what Emerson called the Oversoul. The youth of the time is different, as youth is always different. But now and then a sharp cleavage separates the succeeding generations and it separates them now. The youth of England has found interpretation in Clemence Dane’s play, “A Bill of Divorcement.” In America, the interpretation is only half articulate; but when the incoherent sounds are wholly intelligible, the literature of the short story will have entered, in definite respects, upon a new era.
The Committee of Award wish once again to thank the authors, editors, and publishers whose cooperation makes possible this annual volume and the O. Henry Memorial Prizes.