Virginia Woolf’s short story ‘The Mark on the Wall’ (1917) is perhaps not really a short story at all, or rather, it is a story that rethinks the meaning of the short-story form, and meditates on the question of genre, amongst other things. It is not a traditional short story in that it has no external incidents to speak of — no ‘story’. As E. M. Forster puts it in Aspects of the Novel (1927), a story is ‘a narrative of events arranged in their time sequence’; the story is the ‘something’ that happens. In contrast, plot refers to the narrative of events where the emphasis ‘falls on causality’, on the relations between the events; plot need not be chronologically organised. When story elements are paramount, the reader asks, ‘what next?’ When plot is more significant, she asks, ‘why?’ (Forster 1993, 55). For the early theorists of what a short story is, writers such as Edgar Allen Poe and Randall Stevenson, the obligation of the short story is that it tell about incidents, and that the shape of the incidents must lead to an inexorable conclusion: the question ‘what next?’ leads to an identifiable conclusion.
Swipe to navigate through the chapters of this book
Please log in to get access to this content
To get access to this content you need the following product:
- Afterword: The Mark on the Wall — Marking Differences, Marking Time
- Macmillan Education UK
- Sequence number