Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

"The Disabled Soldier" by Oliver Goldsmith

"The Disabled Soldier" by Oliver Goldsmith (1770, 5 pages)

Day Two
The 18th Century
Oliver Goldsmith

The short story is not a very old literary  genre.    Most historians tell us that the modern short story originated in the opening decades of the 19th century.    The roots of the short story are very ancient, going back to the very origins of written literature and probably predating them.   There are related forms like the fable, the parable, the fairy and folk tale that  all come to mind.        

Oliver Goldsmith (1730 to 1774-Ballymathon, Ireland)  is best known for his famous novel,  The Vicar of Wakefield (1776)  and his poem, "The Deserted Village".    He was also quite successful as a playwright.   He was a friend of Samuel Johnson and a member of his famous club.

"The Disabled Soldier" certainly looks a lot like a short story.    As it begins the narrator of the story is telling us that when he reads the  works of ancient writers Ovid or Cicero in which they complain of the hardships of their lives he says to himself that in one day an ordinary soldier or a slave can suffer more real hardship in one day than these writers do in their entire lives.    These lines put the point elegantly and will give you a feel for the prose style of Goldsmith:

"While the slightest inconveniences of the great are magnified into calamities; while tragedy mouth out their sufferings in all the strains of eloquence, the miseries of the poor are entirely disregarded; and yet some of the lower ranks of people undergo more real hardships in one day, than those of a more exalted station suffer in their whole lives. It is inconceivable what difficulties the meanest of our congmmon sailors and soldiers endure without murmuring or regret; without passionately declaiming against providence, or calling their fellows to be gazers on their intrepidity. Every day is to them a day of misery, and yet they entertain their hard fate without repining".

The narrator's reflections were stimulated by his encounter with a man in a sailor's suit with one leg missing reduced to begging in the streets.  The man begins to his life story.   It reads very much like something Daniel Defoe might have written.    The sailor tells of a life of horrible misery starting out as an orphan in a work house to being transported to the colonies for killing a rabbit to keep from starving to being pressed into naval service and losing a leg in a sea battle.    Throughout the telling of his story, you can tell he has told it many times,  he says over and over he knows his sufferings are just part of normal life and he has no trace of bitterness.    

I see this as a short story.    I think it did not have much influence on the development of the history of the short story in part because of the overwhelming fame of Goldsmith's other work.   

There maybe another cultural force at work here.   Goldsmith was born in Ireland, his parents were -I think-born in Ireland etc.   However, he was Anglo-Irish.   This means he was Protestant and that he was descended basically from colonizing rulers of Ireland from England.   Elizabeth Bowen was also Anglo-Irish.   Her ancestors were given land holdings, tied workers, and the wealth to  build the 30 bedroom manors house, Bowen's Court     as a reward   from Cromwell   A lot of Irish literature and history is defined in terms of a revolt against the rule of the Anglo-Irish.    

The narrative method of the story may also push it back into the fable or parable category where one meets a wanderer and he tells you his story and you learn a moral point from it.

It is in someway clearly in the tradition of tellers of tales I saw in the short story by W. B. Yeats.   It also similar to "The Sisters" by James Joyce in that the central character suffers great hardships but somehow is unaware almost of his own sufferings.    Just like the stories of Yeats and Joyce, it tells us a story of suffering caused by the policies of a colonial power, England.    It focuses on the common people.    

Goldsmith's story seems to me for sure worth reading (you can read it online here).   It may not be quite a short story (I am maybe 75 percent it is) but it is an interesting historically valuable work by a very famous Irish author that you can read in just a few minutes (it is only 2100 words long).   His major works are solidly part of the canon.

"Welcome to Day Two of Irish Short Story
Week-please tell Rory I am  not interested
in seeing  his pot of gold"-Carmilla
Mel u   

"Carmilla,  I am in charge here,
and I will welcome everyone to Irish Short
Stories Week"-Rory O'Halloran


Sayeth said...

I just posted my first of two reviews for Irish Short Story week:

The blog is Free Listens, a blog that reviews free audio books and short stories. You can credit me as Seth (my real name) or Listener (my blogging nome de plume).

JoAnn said...

I read The Vicar of Wakefield 5 or 6 years ago, but had no idea Goldsmith wrote plays or stories. Thanks for the interesting post.