About this Recording

More Classic American Short Stories

Ambrose Bierce A Horseman in the Sky
Kate Chopin Regret
James Fenimore Cooper Eclipse
Stephen Crane The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky
O. Henry The Cop and the Anthem, The Princess and the Puma, The Whirligig of Life


The stories in this collection reveal America in its rawness, its humour and its natural splendour, presenting a rich panorama of location and character and social detail. These authors loved the land, its history and its people. They knew both the beauty and the toughness of life in emerging America

Ambrose Bierce (1842–c.1914) was born in Ohio, educated in Indiana and lived in many different parts of America. He was to become one of the most celebrated short story writers and journalists of his day. A veteran of the Civil War, he wrote realistically and sympathetically of the sufferings of soldiers. His success as a writer of ghost stories may have been prophetic, since he himself disappeared mysteriously on a trip to Mexico in 1914 and was never seen again. In the novel The Old Gringo by Carlos Fuentes (1985), the author imagines what the final days of Ambrose Bierce may have been.

The Horseman in the Sky is a dramatic tale of a father and son who find themselves on opposite sides in the Civil War, where the son’s fulfilment of his promise to ‘do his duty’ leads to the inevitable and tragic conclusion.

Kate Chopin, nee Kate O’Flaherty, (1851–1904), was born in St Louis, Missouri, of Irish and French Creole descent. She attended the Sacred Heart Academy and after graduation married Oscar Chopin. They settled first in New Orleans and later in Cloutierville Louisianna. Surrounded by Cajun culture, Kate found much material for her future writing. Oscar died in 1884 and Kate moved back to St. Louis, where she began writing to support her children. She was immediately successful and her stories about New Orleans and the bayou country, appeared in various periodicals such as Atlantic Monthly. An early feminist, Kate was ahead of her time. Her best-known work, The Awakening outraged the critics for depicting a woman who dares to explore her own sexuality. She wrote: ‘Perhaps it is better to wake up after all, even to suffer; than to remain a dupe to illusions all one’s life.’

Kate Chopin’s short story, Regret, focuses on Mamzelle Aurelie, a strong resilient spinster of fifty, who proudly manages a farm on her own. She is contented with her life until four children are sent to live with her while their mother is away. Her growing attachment to the children and their eventual departure arouse emotions in Mamzelle Aurelie that she is not able to contain.

James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851), one of the country’s most popular novelists, wrote numerous historical romances, the most famous being The Last of the Mohicans. Born into an eminent family in New York state, he attended Yale College at the age of 14 until a prank on a fellow student caused him to be expelled. He joined the merchant marine and then the US Navy where he gained the knowledge of seamanship revealed in his many sea tales. He married well and became a gentleman farmer before achieving success as a writer with his story of the American Revolution, The Spy, in 1821. More success followed with the first of his Leatherstocking Tales featuring the frontiersman Natty Bumppo. Translated into many languages, Cooper was often called ‘The American Walter Scott’.

Twenty-five years after the event, Cooper wrote an account of the great eclipse which he witnessed in 1806. In Eclipse, he describes in affectionate detail his town’s excitement at the first ‘fiery light glowing among the branches of the forest’, the feverish activity of the wildlife and the changing spectacle in the landscape. The optimism of the day is contrasted with the misery of a condemned man in the local jail watching the event through a cell window.

Stephen Crane, (1871–1900), who grew up in a prosperous family near New York City, left university to live rough in The Bowery, where he researched his first and unsuccessful novel, Maggie, A Girl of the Streets. His second work, The Red Badge of Courage, which brought him international fame, depicted the horrors of the American Civil War. His interest in men’s experience of war led him to Cuba to report on their War of Independence. He later was to cover the Spanish American War, and the Greco-Turkish War. In 1897 Crane settled in England with his mistress, Cora Taylor, the former owner of a Jacksonville brothel. An exhausting and stressful life-style led to his death from tuberculosis at the early age of twenty-eight.

In The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky, Crane creates a vivid western melodrama. With a minimum of descriptive flourishes and an economical use of naturalistic dialogue, he creates recognizable, sympathetic characters and hints at a change in the society of the west at the beginning of the 20th century. Jack Potter, the sheriff of Yellow Sky, is returning home from San Antonio with a new bride. When he arrives he has to face a stand-off with the belligerent hellraiser, Scratchy Wilson. Since Jack is unarmed he has to subdue the old rowdy not with a gun but with his new marital status. The west has for a moment become domesticated.

O. Henry, (1862–1910), a master of the short story, was born William Sidney Porter in North Carolina. He first worked as a pharmacist in his uncle’s drugstore, then moved to Texas where he was hired as a sheep herder and ranch hand. After he married and became a father, Porter took a job as a bank teller and began writing professionally for the Houston Post. In 1897, shortly after his wife died of tuberculosis, Porter was found guilty of embezzling funds and was sent to a penitentiary. While in prison Porter began publishing stories to support his daughter, using the name O. Henry to disguise his true identity. After his release, O. Henry moved to New York and soon became one of America’s most popular short story writers. His use of a clever twist in the narrative leading to a surprise ending was referred to as an ‘O. Henry Ending’. Marrying again in 1907 he found temporary happiness but then succumbed to alcoholism and died aged forty-seven.

O. Henry said: ’There are stories in everything. I’ve got some of my best yarns from park benches, lamp posts, and newspaper stands.’ His witty narratives recreate for us the spirit of an age: The Cop and the Anthem is the story of Soapy, a homeless New Yorker, who seeks shelter for the winter in a penal institution. Soapy’s elaborate schemes to get himself arrested are all doomed to failure until fate, in the form of a burly policeman, intervenes. The Princess and the Puma is a spoof on mediaeval tales of damsels in distress and heroic knights. O. Henry’s knight is a cowboy and the damsel is the hard-riding, sharp-shooting daughter of a rancher. The Whirligig of Life is set in Tennessee where a hillbilly couple ask a Justice of the Peace for a ‘divo’ce’ because they ‘can’t git along together nohow’. The wily Justice settles the dispute with a trick or two of his own.

Notes by Garrick Hagon and Liza Ross


The music on this recording is taken from the MARCO POLO catalogue


Budapest Symphony Orchestra / Antal Jancsovics

RAFF Symphony No 7

Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra / Urs Schneider

RAFF Symphony No 3

Czecho-Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra / Urs Schneider

SMETANA Suite from Smetana’s Sketch Book

Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava) / Robert Stankovsky

SMETANA The Fisherman

Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava) / Robert Stankovsky

CUI Orchestral Suite No 2 in E major Op 38

Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava) / Robert Stankovsky

Music programmed by Sarah Butcher

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