1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Conte

CONTE, literally a “story,” derived from the Fr. conter, to narrate, through low Lat. and Provençal forms contare and comtar. This word, although not recognized by the New English Dictionary as an English term, is yet so frequently used in English literary criticisms that some definition of it seems to be demanded. A conte, in French, differs from a récit or a rapport in the element of style; it may be described as an anecdote told with deliberate art, and in this introduction of art lies its peculiar literary value. According to Littré, there is no fundamental difference between a conte and a roman, and all that can be said is that the conte is the generic term, covering long stories and short alike, whereas the roman (or novel) must extend to a certain length. But if this is the primitive and correct signification of the word, it is certain that modern criticism thinks of a conte essentially as a short story, and as a short story exclusively occupied in illustrating one set of ideas or one disposition of character. As early as the 13th century, the word is used in French literature to describe an anecdote thus briefly and artistically told, in prose or verse. The fairy-tales of Perrault and the apologues of La Fontaine were alike spoken of as contes, and stories of peculiar extravagance were known as contes bleus, because they were issued to the common public in coarse blue paper covers. The most famous contes in the 18th century were those of Voltaire, who has been described as having invented the conte philosophique. But those brilliant stories, Candide, Zadig, L’Ingénu, La Princess de Babylone and Le Taureau blanc, are not, in the modern sense, contes at all. The longer of these are romans, the shorter nouvelles, not one has the anecdotical unity required by a conte. The same may be said of those of Marmontel, and of the insipid imitations of Oriental fancy which were so popular at the close of the 18th century. The most perfect recent writer of contes is certainly Guy de Maupassant, and his celebrated anecdote called “Boule de suif” may be taken as an absolutely perfect example of this class of literature, the precise limitations of which it is difficult to define.  (E. G.)