Skip to main content

"Little Selves"

"Liittle Selves"

Today’s author, Mary Lerner, had her 1916 story “Little Selves” published in the September issue of Atlantic Monthly and was chosen by editor Edward J. O’Brien for The Twenty Best American Short Stories of 1916, as well as the Best American Short Stories of the Century collection edited by John Updike and Katrina Kenison, published in 1999.

In his criticism of the story, O’Brien wrote: “Little Selves” by Mary Lerner is little more than a succession of dream pictures portrayed as they cross the consciousness of an old woman who has lived well and is dying happily.  But these pictures are so delicately woven, and so tenderly touched with beauty, that they will not easily be forgotten. I am tempted to say that a success such as this could not be repeated.  It is a happy accident.”

Although not famous as a writer by today’s standards, Mary Lerner was published in some of the most successful magazines of the early 20th century and considered herself a professional writer, listing her job as “authoress” and her occupation as “literature” for the 1920 census.  She stopped writing sometime during the 1920s owing to an injury received from a fall.

In an interview, Lerner stated that theme usually dominates in her work.  Today’s story has multiple themes, all strands woven into a delicate fabric of story that leaves the reader pleased and satisfied at its end:  tales about the “old sod,” as relived by Irish immigrants; dying and old age; female bonding; the joys of childhood; the magical movements of memory in the consciousness and unconsciousness.

Incidentally, it is my belief that the Updike-edited collection aforementioned, Best American Short Stories of the 20th Century, is one of the finest collections of short fiction in the Nashville Public Library collection.  It is chock full of the very best of American authors and their works.

And now, “Little Selves” by Mary Lerner…we begin….