Scottish Women’s Short Stories: The Interplay of Form, Content and Context in the Work of Janice Galloway, A. L. Kennedy and Ali Smith

Ines Maria Gstrein

Janice Galloway, A. L. Kennedy and Ali Smith have published numerous short story cycles since the 1990s. They stand in a long line of Scottish women short story writers (Lumsden 2000). With the literary breakthrough of Muriel Spark and Elspeth Davie in the late 1950s, “the short story really becomes the dominant form in which women in Scotland write” (Baker 2022). Although their short stories form part of university curricula, are praised by literary critics and have won prizes, research on Galloway, Kennedy and Smith tends to focus on the novelistic output of the authors.

Apart from providing the first book-length comprehensive study of Galloway’s, Kennedy’s and Smith’s short story cycles, I aim to contribute to the growing area of research into the short story and its contexts. For this reason, I will adopt a theoretical approach which allows to integrate form, content and context of short story cycles: in my dissertation project, I will investigate the usefulness of New Formalist thought for short story criticism. New Formalist Caroline Levine introduces the concept of affordance to literary studies. Affordances serve to describe all qualities of a given form (Levine 2015). In my dissertation project, I would like to use the concept of affordance as a lens to examine the constraints and the possibilities of short story cycles within broader sociocultural circumstances: often, the short story cycle engages with marginalisation.

Marginalisation as the short story’s central theme has long been a question of great interest in short story criticism whereas the relation between marginalisation and literary form has received scant attention. I propose using marginalisation as a figure of thought to bring form, content and context together. The short story cycles by Galloway, Kennedy and Smith question hegemonic discourses from an outsider position as they draw attention to a marginalised genre, a marginalised nation and marginalised people. The different aspects of marginalisation will be brought together in the dissertation project: it sets out to explore the ways in which the form of the short story cycle affords the representation of various types of social marginalisation.


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