For me, a good short story, however subjective its manner, should reflect something of the human condition at the time of writing.

Although the implications are not always direct, this present collection, written around 1952, is hopefully (if this does not sound too pretentious) drawn from the collective unconscious of our time.*  Only two of the stories were accepted for publication, these appearing in the magazine World Review and here reproduced in the Appendix. The Funeral was adapted from a chapter in the novel Nelly and Esli, whereas Mystery is a short story in its own right.  Other stories were under consideration when the magazine, without warning, discontinued publication in 1953.

                                                                                                    Morris Cox

* Even a story with a Victorian setting can reflect this.

Editor’s Note:

THE DEVIL’S CHIMNEY is a collection of 26 short stories, plus an Appendix with two stories that were published in WORLD REVIEW (as mentioned in Cox’s introduction above).  It was issued in an edition of 5 copies in the Gogmagog Photocopy Library in 1985.
     When Cox says the stories are ‘hopefully ... drawn from the collective unconscious of our time,’ he gives us a significant edge to our understanding of the odd plot structures and dark themes.  In his usual insightful manner Alan Tucker has written, ‘THE DEVIL’S CHIMNEY (1952) at the time the stories were written would have been termed macabre, rather inadequately.  The matter-of-fact narrative style is in the English tradition of Maugham and the detective writers. [...] The observation in all the stories is surreal.  Each has what at first seems to be a trick ending:  the undeniable truth which was not expected at all in such stories as ‘Tree Trap’ [not included in the current selection].  We are used to the idea of the museum of the mind.  In this book particularly the writer observes and describes the attic of the mind, itemizing the unliterary everyday clutter of unnerving consequence in his formal slightly stilted style: the alienation of the night.’   (GOGMAGOG 51)
     The stories work well as dreams.  Their internal rationality - wholly irrational by our conscious standards - instantly makes strange sense, as something familiar yet often denied by ourselves.  Anyone who has analyzed a dream will recognize how contradictions in a given dream are what give it meaning.  The seeming randomness is no longer random, but a different type of order.  However disturbing, these stories - especially taken together as a whole - are an often fascinating document of mid-century fears and repressions.
     Four stories have been chosen which seem to stand well enough on their own, and which show the various facets of style and themes in the collection (see also the section of pieces from WORLD REVIEW which includes 'The Funeral').  ‘Firewood’ and ‘Table’ are especially interesting, as they seem to provide glancing insight into Cox’s aesthetics and ideas about culture and art.   Be sure to view the paintings ‘The Last Dance’ (1948) and ‘My Aunt’s Table’ (1981) in conjunction with the story ‘Table’ for some interesting cross references between world and image.  -BH/03