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Classic Short Stories

By Megan Powell, Magali Prel, Natasha Smith and Mia Walby

To pay homage to the shortest month of the year, as we approach the end of February 2024, here are some classic short stories to tick off your list. Just like the month, these classic tales can be full of love, celebration, new beginnings and surprises. The process of choosing these short classics was no easy feat as there are so many novellas, plays and short stories that deserve equal recognition within the realms of classic literature. The range here will offer something different to all readers and will expand your classic repertoire so it features the immense talent of these big authors – delivered in a small package. They demonstrate the true power of the written word as these classic short stories remain equally as powerful and unique as their longer counterparts.

The Judgement by Franz Kafka

The Judgement by Franz Kafka is a short story first published in 1913. The story opens with a young man named Georg Bendemann writing a letter to his friend living in Russia. In the midst of writing the letter, Georg goes to check on his invalid father who starts questioning whether the friend exists, sparking a violent argument between the two that quickly escalates and leads Georg to carry out his own “judgement” or punishment after feeling the cruel wrath of his father’s words.

The Judgement, like many of Kafka’s other works, is autobiographical. Kafka’s own father was a dominating presence in his life and was frequently unpredictable. This theme is also present in The Metamorphosis, where Gregor Samsa’s father starts throwing apples at his son who has been transformed into a giant cockroach. In The Judgement, Georg’s father’s opinions matter greatly to Georg. Though his father now has to rely on him for care and support, he still appears as a “giant” to Georg, as if his presence still makes him feel like a small child.

The Fall of the House of Usher by Edgar Allan Poe 

The Fall of the House of Usher was written by Edgar Allan Poe in 1839 and is one of his most well-known horror fictions. The Gothic story depicts the unfortunate events that happen to the remaining Usher family: twins Roderick and Madeline. The narrator visits the Usher mansion after receiving a letter from Roderick, creating an eerie, suspenseful tension for the reader. Death is a key theme in the story – it seemingly targets Madeline, only for her to be entombed alive. Poe creates an unnerving and tense atmosphere as the typical fears of a haunted mansion come to life. If you struggle to focus on reading and want to get into short stories, this is a great place to start. Poe maintains the attention of the reader by instigating horror with classic elements of a violent storm, haunted mansion and a cursed family. The subtlety of the Gothic narrative is what elevates the story, leaving you tense and uneasy in many different ways and teasing your imagination with horrors.

Come Rain or Come Shine by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro’s masterful short story is densely packed with humour, melancholy and humanity in equal measure. It follows Ray, who arrives to visit his university friends, Charlie and Emily, who we learn are perhaps not the fond friends he wistfully remembers from his youth. Charlie requests a favour from Ray: to be himself and, in being so, to salvage Charlie and Emily’s failing marriage. Unambitious Ray, having led an unremarkable life, will make Charlie look more favourable again in his stead. A deft meditation on ageing, failing to live up to the potential you believed you possessed and not accomplishing what you thought you would, its comic, absurdist tilt balances the maudlin, marrying them to produce a thought-provoking, poignant narrative. Ishiguro always delivers, but here, in this short piece, he packages a beautifully bittersweet tale imbued with music and nostalgia.

The Birds by Daphne du Maurier

For a short horror story, Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds is the perfect option to devour in one sitting. Published in 1952, the novel is set in Cornwall and follows the attack on a community by birds. Nat Hocken initially notices the strange behaviour of the flock after being awoken one night by their aggressive pecking. The events continue throughout the nation, with the volatile birds continuing to attack. The plot, although simple to follow, has numerous interpretations for the symbolism of the birds and their vengeance. One main interpretation is a social commentary on the British government’s intrusive failures and communal anxieties following the Second World War. The short story was the inspiration for none other than Alfred Hitchcock’s horror-thriller of the same name in 1963.


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