reviewed by Robin Hemley
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  • CONTRIBUTORS: J. Henry Shorthouse, Guy de Maupassant, G. D. Wetherbee, Mary Moncure Parker, Ludovic Halévy, Wm. Thomson, León de Tinseau, Michel Raymond, Grace Schuyler, Richard Linthicum, Hugh A. Wetmore, George D’Esparbès, Paul Heyse.

David Hamilton, editor of the Iowa Review, recently gave me a tattered and crumbling copy of the September 1895 issue of Short Stories magazine. As I perused the magazine’s table of contents, I felt overjoyed by the implied posthumous (and possibly prehumous) misfortune suffered by its contributors. Of the thirteen authors represented, I knew the work of only one, Guy de Maupassant. Perhaps, I thought, I’d have the chance to rescue one or two of the other writers who had sunk into anonymity in the proceeding hundred years. “Joy soon turned to disappointment,” I’m tempted to write, infected as I am now by the idiom of much of the writing in this long-ago literary offering. It’s too easy to judge from more than a century’s remove the foibles and prejudices and fads of the past. A century from now, our own foibles and fads will be evident and most of us obscure to the point of leaving only faint traces in crumbling magazines. Not to depress you. But I doubted there’d be much that would appeal to a contemporary reader.

The first story in the magazine, “The Children of the Moccasin,” was an “Indian legend” told by a narrator who heard it firsthand from “Mother-River.” In this sad little tale of love potions and betrayal, the characters speak as though they came from the Tribe of King James: “‘Shall I save thee, Little Squirrel?’ I cried, Mother-River went on.” There were two other such stories—the best (and I use that word advisedly) tells of beating off the savage Apaches after they kidnap the son of a guide. A third, narrowly edging out “The Children of the Moccasin” for most patronizing tale, has an old Indian giving his life for the engineer of a steam locomotive whom he worships as “The Master of the Steam.” On the plus side, the magazine has a more international flavor than most literary magazines today—America looked much more toward Europe in 1895 than it does now. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find international offerings in most literary magazines in the U.S. (there are exceptions, such as the fine magazine Manoa, from Hawai’i, edited by Frank Stewart). Only the tiniest fraction of non-English-language literature is translated into English for our current reading pleasure. Even that which is translated is often forgotten.

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Robin Hemley is the author of seven books of fiction and nonfiction, including Turning Life into Fiction and Invented Eden. He is the director of the nonfiction writing program at the University of Iowa.

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