We\u2019ve put together a reading list of our top 10 classic short story recommendations. The short story emerged as a recognised and respected literary genre throughout the 19th\u00a0century...\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nWhat better way then, to celebrate this literary form, than by returning to some of the great tales and classic\u00a0authors who helped shape this genre into the literary gem it is today.\r\n\r\nHere\u2019s our pick of the top ten \u2018must-read\u2019 short story classics!\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nDon't have time to read the whole post right now?\r\nNo problem. Let us send you a downloadable PDF so you can read it when it\u2019s convenient for you...\r\n\r\n\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\tName *\t\t\t\tEmail *\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\t\r\n\t\t\r\n\t\t\r\n\t\r\n\r\n\r\n10. \u2018The Signal-Man\u2019\r\nAuthor:\u00a0Charles Dickens\u00a0Year: 1866\r\n\r\nWritten by one of England\u2019s greatest novelists, \u2018The Signal-Man\u2019 is an eerie ghost story about a railway signal-man who is haunted by foreboding, spectral visions.\r\n\r\nFavourite Line: 'So little sunlight ever found its way to this spot, that it had an earthy, deadly smell; and so much cold wind rushed through it, that it struck chill to me, as if I had left the natural world.'\r\n\r\nNo doubt the best aspect of \u2018The Signal-Man\u2019 is the way Dickens establishes atmosphere. An example of this can be seen in the quotation above.\r\n\r\nHere, Dickens succeeds in creating a haunting, supernatural atmosphere by not only suggesting the narrator has 'left the natural world', but also by describing the setting much like a graveyard.\r\n\r\n'The Signal Man' is a short story written by one of the world's most famous novelists, Charles Dickens. Image Credit: James Gardiner Collection via Flickr Creative Commons.\r\n9. \u2018The Happy Prince\u2019\r\nAuthor: Oscar Wilde\u00a0Year: 1888\r\n\r\n\u2018The Happy Prince\u2019 is a melancholy tale, reflecting the style of a fairy-tale or fable \u2013 which is, after all, where short stories found their roots as a genre.\r\n\r\nThe story looks at themes of love and sacrifice, wealth and poverty, and the nature of true beauty.\r\n\r\nFavourite Line: 'At that moment a curious crack sounded inside the statue, as if something had broken. The fact is that the leaden heart had snapped right in two. It certainly was a dreadfully hard frost.'\r\n\r\nThis line is extremely effective and moving due to the dramatic irony of the narrator\u2019s suggestion that it was merely the frost that had broken the prince\u2019s heart.\r\n\r\nIn contrast, the reader is able to recognise that it is the prince\u2019s sorrow, and love for the poor little swallow, that has caused the 'leaden heart' to snap in two.\r\n\r\nOscar Wilde is known all over the world as one of the literary greats\u2026 Image Credit: Delany Dean via Flickr Creative Commons.\r\n8. \u2018The Magic Shop\u2019\r\nAuthor: H.G. Wells\u00a0Year: 1903\r\n\r\n'The Magic Shop' is a curious tale that follows a father and son\u2019s experience of visiting a \u2018genuine magic shop\u2019.\r\n\r\nWhile the little boy explores the shop, seeing only joy and wonder, his father is confronted with much more sinister visions.\r\n\r\nThe story therefore examines how we experience the world as children versus how we experience the world as adults.\r\n\r\nIn doing so, \u2018The Magic Shop\u2019 forces the reader to consider whether innocence and evil truly exist in the outer world, or whether these are merely determined by our own perceptions.\r\n\r\nFavourite Line:\u00a0'I felt him pull at something that clung to my coat-sleeve, and then I saw he held a little, wriggling red demon by the tail--the little creature bit and fought and tried to get at his hand--and in a moment he tossed it carelessly behind a counter... "Astonishing what people will carry about with them unawares!"'\r\n\r\nThe symbolic implication of this line seems to sum up the overall purpose of the story.\r\n\r\nThe narrator, of course, believes the demon belongs to the magic shop, yet the shop owner claims that the narrator has been carrying the little devil around himself.\r\n\r\nThis therefore begs the question \u2013 is evil born of our own perceptions?\r\n\r\nThe famous novelist H.G. Wells also penned a classic short story: 'The Magic Shop'\u2026 Image Credit: Kieran Guckian via Flickr Creative Commons.\r\n\r\n\n \n\t \n \t Stay up to date with the most popular posts on Writer's Edit.\n \n \n \n \n \n \n \n \n \n \n \n You're Subscribed!\n \r\n7. \u2018The Gift of the Magi\u2019\r\nAuthor: O. Henry\u00a0Year: 1906\r\n\r\n\u2018The Gift of the Magi\u2019 is a simple story about a young married couple\u2019s quest to find each other the perfect Christmas gift.\r\n\r\nIn securing these \u2018perfect gifts\u2019, however, each partner is forced to give up something highly valuable and precious to them, resulting in a rather unfortunate twist.\r\n\r\nFavourite Line:\u00a0'But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest.'\r\n\r\nThis line is made all the more wonderful by the contradiction of the line immediately preceding it, which suggests that the couple was extremely 'unwise' for giving up their greatest treasures.\r\n\r\nThe delightful contradiction forces the reader to consider how the couple could be considered both 'unwise' and yet also the 'wisest of all'.\r\n\r\nIn doing so, O. Henry invites the reader to recognise that, although the valuable sacrifices the couple make for each other ultimately reduce their gifts to irrelevance, their sacrifices were made out of love, and are therefore the most valuable gifts of all.\r\n6. \u2018Rip Van Winkle\u2019\r\nAuthor: Washington Irving\u00a0Year: 1819\r\n\r\nAfter falling asleep in the woods, the \u2018henpecked\u2019 Rip Van Winkle awakes to find his village deeply changed, and is startled to discover twenty years have passed.\r\n\r\nOne of the greatest classic short stories to emerge in America, \u2018Rip Van Winkle\u2019 takes a metaphorical look at the changing American identity following the event of the Revolutionary War.\r\n\r\nFavourite Line: 'I was myself last night, but I fell asleep on the mountain, and they\u2019ve changed my gun, and everything\u2019s changed, and I\u2019m changed, and I can\u2019t tell what\u2019s my name, or who I am!' \r\n\r\nThrough this exclamation, uttered by Rip Van Winkle, Irving perfectly captures the crisis of identity he aims to represent.\r\n\r\nThrough this line, more than any other, Irving portrays America as a nation that must struggle to map out its own, unique identity, after severing its ties from the previous monarch (much like Rip, after finding himself free of Dame Van Winkle).\r\n\r\nAuthor and essayist, Washington Irving...\r\n5. \u2018D\u00e9sir\u00e9e\u2019s Baby\u2019\r\nAuthor: Kate Chopin\u00a0Year: 1893\r\n\r\nSet in Louisiana, prior to the American Civil War (a time when slavery was still considered \u2018lawful\u2019), \u2018D\u00e9sir\u00e9e\u2019s Baby\u2019 examines the injustices of racism and gender discrimination.\r\n\r\nFavourite Line:\u00a0'"But above all," she wrote, "night and day, I thank the good God for having so arranged our lives that our dear Armand will never know that his mother, who adores him, belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery."'\r\n\r\nThe sense of karmic justice in this final line leaves the reader feeling smugly satisfied.\r\n\r\nAfter expelling his wife and child from their home, merely for their mixed heritage, the reader takes great delight in discovering that it is Armand himself who is not entirely of white descent.\r\n\r\nWithin this ending, Chopin highlights that all people are ultimately the same, and that not one of us, for any reason whatsoever, have the right to treat another person as less human than ourselves.\r\n4. \u2018The Body Snatcher\u2019\r\nAuthor: Robert Louis Stevenson\u00a0Year: 1884\r\n\r\nInspired by the Burke and Hare murders of 1828, \u2018The Body Snatcher\u2019 is a Gothic tale that follows two med students, involved in crimes of grave robbing, in order to keep their anatomy professor supplied with instructional cadavers.\r\n\r\nFavourite Line: 'We were all startled by the transformation, as if a man had risen from the dead.' \r\n\r\nWhat makes this line so intriguing is the way it seems to strongly foreshadow Stevenson\u2019s grotesque ending.\r\n\r\nThe author Robert Louis Stevenson\u2026 Image Credit: James Gardiner Collection via Flickr Creative Commons.\r\n3. \u2018The Yellow Wallpaper\u2019\r\nAuthor: Charlotte Perkins Gilman\u00a0Year: 1892\r\n\r\nFlying the flag for feminism in this story, Charlotte Perkins Gilman provides an interesting and unsettling exploration of the oppression of women in nineteenth century society.\r\n\r\nFavourite Line: 'At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candle light, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be.' \r\n\r\nThe rich symbolism of the emerging wallpaper pattern as we witness the narrator\u2019s gradual descent into madness is definitely what makes this story so memorable and effective.\r\n\r\nIt is clear to the reader that, just like the woman in the wallpaper, the narrator is being held prisoner by her husband, and is desperate to break free.\r\n2. \u2018The Tell-Tale Heart\u2019\r\nAuthor: Edgar Allan Poe\u00a0Year: 1843\r\n\r\nOf course, we couldn\u2019t have a classic short story list without including the \u2018Father of the Short Story\u2019 himself, Mr. Edgar Allan Poe.\r\n\r\nIt is always difficult to choose only one story from such a prolific writer, but in our opinion, \u2018The Tell-Tale Heart\u2019 serves as an excellent example of Poe\u2019s prowess in the short story genre.\r\n\r\n(If readers wish to view more of Poe\u2019s stories, a complete collection is available for Kindle on Amazon.)\r\n\r\nFavourite Line: 'True! \u2013 nervous \u2013 very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?' \r\n\r\nWhat makes this story so memorable is Poe\u2019s brilliant use of the unreliable narrator.\r\n\r\nFrom the very opening line (included above), the reader is given the strong sense that the narrator is not to be entirely trusted.\r\n\r\nThe structure of the introductory line is erratic and disjointed, creating the impression of mad ramblings. In addition to this, the narrator plants the seed in the reader\u2019s mind himself that he is, in fact, \u2018mad\u2019.\r\n\r\nOf course, the wonderful irony of this is that the narrator is attempting to convince the reader of his sanity, and yet with every sentence, the reader only becomes more and more certain of the opposite.\r\n\r\nEdgar Allan Poe adopted the short story as it emerged as a recognised literary form\u2026 Image Credit: Charles W. Bailey Jr. via Flickr Creative Commons.\r\n1. \u2018B24\u2019\r\nAuthor: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle\u00a0Year: 1899\r\n\r\nAnyone who has heard the name Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would know he is most famous for his hugely popular Sherlock Holmes stories.\r\n\r\nBut perhaps not everyone realises what a talented and prolific writer he truly was \u2013 particularly in the genre of the short story.\r\n\r\nThe Sherlock Holmes stories themselves are, of course, exemplary of this. Of the sixty stories chronicling the adventures of the consulting detective, fifty-six of them are short (and all sixty are well worth the read, if ever you get the chance. The complete collection is available here).\r\n\r\nBut for anyone who has ever wondered what this author can do outside of the Holmes stories, \u2018B24\u2019 is excellent in highlighting Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as a master of the short story.\r\n\r\nFavourite Line: 'I have only you to look to, sir, and if you will clear my name of this false accusation, then I will worship you as one man never yet worshipped another. But if you fail me, then I give you my solemn promise that I will rope myself up, this day month, to the bar of my windows, and from that time on I will come to plague you in your dreams if ever yet one man was able to come back and to haunt another.' \r\n\r\nSpoken directly from the narrator to the reader at the end of the story, this line is extraordinary in a number of ways.\r\n\r\nBy addressing the reader in this way (both here, and in the opening) Doyle personally drags the reader into the story and places a great deal of responsibility on his\/her shoulders.\r\n\r\nIn doing so, Doyle establishes an acute sense of realism in the tale, allowing the reader to feel as though the narrator can, in fact, extend beyond the page and come back to haunt them as promised. The line is also notable for the seed of doubt it places in the reader\u2019s mind, that the narrator may be unreliable.\r\n\r\nWritten from the perspective of a thief, attempting to convince us he has been wrongly accused of murder, the assertion that he will hang himself if we, the reader, refuse to help him, makes us question the narrator\u2019s sanity (much like the narrator in 'The Tell-Tale Heart').\r\n\r\nIf the narrator is mad enough to hang himself if he is not listened to, perhaps the reader cannot trust his testimony after all? In this way, the reader is left wondering, do they really know who the killer is?\r\n\r\nOne of the most widely renowned short story writers, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - author of the Sherlock Holmes series. Image Credit: Daniel Y. Go via Flickr Creative Commons.\r\n***\r\nLove short stories, both classic and contemporary? Why not\u00a0learn how to write a short story of your own?\r\n\r\nDo you have a favourite that wasn't listed here? Share it with us in the comments below!