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Foreword

Alan Gibbs

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1Although Jewish American writer Henry Roth is best known as a novelist, he also left behind a rich store of short stories – both published and unpublished – at his death in 1995. Roth came to prominence with his first novel, Call It Sleep, although more so after its reissue in 1964, than in its initial publication in 1934. This novel is now widely regarded as a classic of the depiction of Jewish American experience. The majority of Roth’s short published pieces, collected together in the 1987 volume Shifting Landscape, were written during the 60-year period between Call It Sleep and his second novel, the four-volume Mercy of a Rude Stream. This latter, often autobiographical, work regretfully contemplates Roth’s life from the perspective of elderly ill-health. Roth’s shorter works, many of them similarly autobiographical, offer a wealth of illuminating reflections on his life and art. In particular, Roth used the short form to explore his attitude towards his childhood and past, and especially his difficulties in producing longer fiction.

2No lengthy study of Roth’s short fiction has previously been published. Contributors were invited to supply essays on Roth’s short stories, concentrating either on individual pieces, on thematic groups of stories, or on the relationship between his short texts and his longer work. The focus could either be on Roth’s published pieces or his unpublished manuscripts. Besides Roth’s published oeuvre, a considerable amount of material remains unpublished, housed in the American Jewish Historical Society’s archive in New York City, appropriately the city that figures so strongly in Roth’s work. The unpublished material comprises both large projects (material that extends the so-far published Mercy volumes, for example) and short pieces. We have been fortunate enough to obtain permission from Roth’s literary estate to publish one of these pieces, “Lawrence”, which begins this volume.

3The essay following Roth’s short story examines interactions between his shorter pieces and his longer fiction, specifically, Roth’s use of the short story as a means of carrying out experiments which reach their full fruition in his longer works.  Thereafter, essays by Steven G. Kellman, Virginia Ricard, and Lene Schøtt-Kristensen, examine three of Roth’s strongest stories, from the 1950s and 1960s, respectively “At Times in Flight: A Parable” (1959), “The Surveyor” (1966), and “Final Dwarf” (1969). Finally, two articles by Martín Urdiales Shaw and Simon Turner take diverse overviews of Roth’s work. Common threads amongst these essays include the tracing of autobiographical currents in Roth’s work, in particular his anguished search for redemption, for a stable self and a suitable location from which to begin writing again. Roth’s short works provide a fascinating supplement to the intense search for identity and redemption that characterises much of his longer work. This collection hopefully provides the beginnings of a suitable recognition for this aspect of the overlooked and underestimated legacy of Henry Roth.

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Référence électronique

Alan Gibbs, « Foreword », Journal of the Short Story in English [En ligne], 44 | Spring 2005, mis en ligne le 05 août 2008, consulté le 17 août 2017. URL : http://jsse.revues.org/421

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Alan Gibbs

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