Presence: Collected Stories by Arthur Miller - review by Christopher Bigsby

Christopher Bigsby

All The Luck

Presence: Collected Stories


Bloomsbury 389pp £25

When he left university in 1938, Arthur Miller wanted to be a writer. As he sat working in his parents’ Brooklyn cellar, his preference was for drama, and he tried to place his plays with Broadway producers. When that failed, he turned his hand to fiction, writing a novel (never published) that attacked American racism and a series of highly original stories, rejected by the major magazines for their modernist approach and scatological content. What would be his first Broadway play, The Man Who Had All the Luck, existed first as a draft novel and, when the 1944 premiere proved a disaster (it closed after three days), he returned to fiction, publishing Focus. It sold 90,000 copies and was his first success. He could well have continued down that path had he not decided to have one further go at drama. The result was All My Sons and his career as a dramatist was launched, but he never abandoned fiction, even though he later recalled that whenever he read novels he found himself drawn to the dialogue, riffling through the pages in search of the next dramatic exchange.

In the introduction to his first collection of stories, published in 1966 (and reproduced in Presence), Miller explained that nonetheless he himself found dialogue difficult in the context of short stories. He could never quite get the idea of an actor reading it out of his mind. It

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