Tell me about Club Stories.
April 28, 2009 1:05 PM   Subscribe

What is the first example, some of the earliest examples, or some of the best examples of the "Club Story" narrative cliche?

It's a late-Victorian cliche--one I particularly associate with ghost stories, tall tales, and imperialist hunting exotic game / beating down the natives / going native stories.

There's a bunch of guys (it seems to be a particularly male genre) gathered around smoking and drinking. Most commonly, the setting is one of the Victorian-era private social clubs, but it might be someone's library, on a pleasure boat, or any other sociable situation (see _Heart_of_Darkness_). A topic gets raised, stories are told in summary--but then one person tells a story worth reporting. The first level narrator is someone who heard the story told by the original (often crazy, untrustworthy, or traumatized) narrator.

I'm addicted to these stories, and I'm trying to do some semi-scholarly poking around preliminary to a project. I know these were big by the 1890s, and the ones after 1918 tend to be retrospective or nostalgic for that earlier period, but I'm looking for a main vector of transmission.

I'd also like anthologies of these, any scholarly studies on 'em, or just a listing of examples you really like (they're still written now and again in the horror genre).
posted by LucretiusJones to Writing & Language (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: P.G. Wodehouse, the early 20th-century humorous author, set many of his stories in the Drones Club, with an old-time member narrating the exploits of another old-timer to a newer member.

It's an interesting spin on the genre, considering these stories were humorous rather than scary.
posted by muddgirl at 1:14 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: The Canterbury Tales?
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:28 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: Stephen King riffed on this trope with "The Breathing Method" and "The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands".

This source claims King got the idea from Lord Dunsany's Travel Tales of Joseph Jorkens, which seems quite plausible as Dunsany was a member of Lovecraft's circle and thus a big influence on King.

Relevant quote from the link:

"Beyond inspiration, Dunsany shaped one of the forms of the field. Perhaps his most famous character is Mr. Joseph Jorkens, featured in six books total. The Jorkens stories usually follow the London Men’s Club model featuring a beginning where a member mentions an odd experience, and the protagonist tops him with a tall tale of his own. Numerous other writers saw the possibility of this form, leading to Arthur C. Clarke’s Tales from the White Hart, Spider Robinson’s tales of the bar Callahan’s Place, and even Stephen King’s novelette, “The Breathing Method”, which appeared in Different Seasons."
posted by arcanecrowbar at 1:39 PM on April 28, 2009

Ghost Story and Hellfire Club by Peter Straub are contemporary (and terrible IMO) modern examples of what you're talking about.
posted by jennyb at 2:39 PM on April 28, 2009

I read one of these recently. Stephen King has another one, titled "The Breathing Method" in his Different Seasons collection.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 3:50 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: Possibly Chesterton's The Club of Queer Trades, though as far as I recall although the stories (or at least one of them) are told at club dinners, the narrative itself tells them more directly.

Barbara Michaels's Other Worlds is a pretty modern example.

Buchan uses the trope sometimes, though for extended dialogue rather than complete narratives - the Thursday Club in The Three Hostages, for example.

Michael Innes's Appleby Talking is short stories told to his friends.

(You've almost certainly tried asking on the VICTORIA list?)
posted by paduasoy at 4:06 PM on April 28, 2009

And further to muddgirl's mention of Wodehouse, there are the Mulliner stories, wch take place in a pub.
posted by paduasoy at 4:08 PM on April 28, 2009

Joseph Conrad uses this device in his stories with the Marlow character.
posted by canoehead at 4:18 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: It's not exactly the same, but in case you're interested, Agatha Christie's Miss Marple short story collection The Thirteen Problems is kind of like that - I think. There is a pretty detailed summary on the Wikipedia page.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 4:26 PM on April 28, 2009

A more recent example is The Weir by Conor McPherson. It takes place in a rural Irish pub and involves storytelling.
posted by rabbitsnake at 4:31 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: Re: Conrad and his Marlow character, see the very hilarious short story Youth.
posted by Bron at 5:37 PM on April 28, 2009

Conrad used something like this in Heart of Darkness -- ostensibly a tale told to an all-male gathering of old seafarers. HoD is 1902.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:40 PM on April 28, 2009

It's a little broader than you described, but this style is a kind of 'frame narrative', one of which of the classics is Boccaccio's 'Decameron'. Which is a lot like the Canterbury Tales, and if you're interested in French medieval/renaissance literature, inspired a significant work called the Heptameron.

Which I had to write my senior thesis about. And it sucked. But I seem to recall that, like the Canterbury Tales, it had a couple of stories that involved a fart as a plot point. I actually almost wrote my thesis about farts in medieval literature, but I couldn't find a satisfactorily-conjugatable term for 'fart' in French.

...Anyway, if you want to search for things on it, try the terms 'frame tale' or 'frame narrative'.

Oh! just remembered before I posted. I have not read these yet, only had them recommended here, but I am told that Asimov's 'Black Widowers' stories are like this and very good...?
posted by dust.wind.dude at 8:32 PM on April 28, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the help.

I'm aware of the Chaucer and Boccaccio root examples, but I'm particularly interested in the Victorian incarnation of the frame tale.

Some places I'd found information pointed me to Stevenson's New Arabian Nights as a source. These are interwoven stories with a Club (the Suicide Club) as a common element, but they lack the narrative setup I'm interested in.

I'd read Dunsany's Jorkens--which are right on the money, the club tale mixed with a little Baron Munchausen (The Good Baron's stories themselves lack the outside frame story).

While I'm in love with the whole genre and its perambulations (so thanks for all the examples), for the purpose of a project, I'm particularly interested in how it'd played out in periodicals up til about 1904 or so. I'm wondering by that time if it was yet associated with the tall tale and humor.

The Marlow stories were certainly out there, but I'm not yet certain whether the frame had currency much before that or no.

Thanks for the suggestion to ask on the Victoria list--I'll be doing that soon.
posted by LucretiusJones at 9:11 PM on April 28, 2009

Best answer: As one more example, The Turn of the Screw (1898), by Henry James, also fits into this category. Definitely a Victorian incarnation.
posted by Ms. Informed at 10:10 AM on April 29, 2009

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