Public Domain Short Stories: Copyright Free, Non Copyright & Royalty Free

copyright free short stories Public Domain Short Stories
Public Domain Short Stories

In the United States, books or stories published in 1928 or earlier are now in the public domain (as of 2024). These works are free to use and reproduce as you like. Be aware that translations of public domain stories are not necessarily in the public domain as well. Make sure the translation is also old enough to qualify.

Here are some great public domain short stories. Only one story per author is listed, but most have many other copyright free stories as well. Keep in mind that everything these authors wrote might not be in the public domain yet.

Public Domain Short Stories

“Luck” by Mark Twain

The narrator attended a banquet in honor of an English military captain. An old acquaintance, a clergyman, told him that in private the man was a fool. Surprised, the narrator gets the story from him. It seems all the captain’s successful campaigns were the result of endless blunders. (Summary)

Read “Luck”

“Desiree’s Baby” by Kate Chopin

Desiree had been adopted as a toddler. She is now an adult with a baby of her own. She and her husband, Armand, are very happy. After a while, there are some whispers about the baby. (Summary & Analysis)

Read “Desiree’s Baby”

“The Wedding-Knell” by Nathaniel Hawthorne

The narrator recounts the story of an unusual wedding between a man and woman in their sixties. Rather than being introduced by uplifting music, the wedding was introduced with a funeral knell instead.

This story can be read in the preview of Twice-Told Tales(44% in)

“Miss Brill” by Katherine Mansfield

A middle-aged woman takes a weekly Sunday walk. This time she takes out her fur to wear. She likes to observe and listen to people, but she overhears something that upsets her.

Read “Miss Brill” (Includes Summary & Analysis)

“Cat in the Rain” by Ernest Hemingway

An American couple is on vacation in Italy. The wife looks out the window at the rain and sees a cat huddled under a table. She wants to go down and take it in out of the rain.

This story can be read in the preview of The Complete Short Stories of Ernest HemingwayFirst select Kindle, then go into the preview. (76% in)

“Jonah of the Jove-Run” by Ray Bradbury

Nibley is an old man with the remarkable ability to sense the orbits and trajectories of moving objects. He also has a reputation as a drinker. The ship TERRA has to take off for Jupiter immediately and his services might be needed.

This story can be read in the sample of The Planet Stories: 10 by Ray Bradbury (12% in)

“Paper Pills” by Sherwood Anderson

Reefy is an old man with a huge nose and hands. He used to be a doctor. He married a wealthy woman who inherited a large farm. She died within a year of their union. We hear the story of Reefy and how he came to meet the woman.

“Love and Bread” by August Strindberg

Falk wants to marry Louisa, but her father doesn’t think he earns enough money. After discussing the situation, her father agrees to let them marry but tells Falk that he needs to earn more. They’re overjoyed at the news and spend lots of time together. (Summary)

“A Horseman in the Sky” by Ambrose Bierce

During the American Civil War, Carter Druse, fighting for the North, falls asleep at his sentry post. We learn how he joined the Union forces.

This story can be read in the preview of The Devil’s Dictionary, Tales, & Memoirs. (5% in)

“The Last Leaf” by O. Henry

A few tenants in an apartment building are painters/artists. One of the tenants gets pneumonia, and she can see a vine from her deathbed window. She says she’s going to die when the vine loses its last leaf.

This is the fourth story in the preview of 50 Greatest Short Stories(46% in)

“John Redding Goes To Sea” by Zora Neale Hurston

The villagers thought John was an unusual child, and his mother agreed. He was imaginative and prone to day dreams. He’s drawn to the sea, and wants to leave his small Florida village when he grows up. John’s mother is against it but his father is supportive. When the time comes, John is determined to go. While waiting, he meets Stella and unexpectedly gets married, which puts his plans on hold. (Summary)

Read “John Redding Goes to Sea”

“Moon-Face” by Jack London

The narrator hates John Claverhouse especially his optimistic view of life, his laugh, and his name. He knows that it’s an irrational hatred, but instead of ignoring the man, he obsesses over him, making it his aim to destroy Claverhouse’s life.

This is the first story in the preview of Moon-Face & Other Stories.

“Bartleby, the Scrivener” by Herman Melville

An elderly, Manhattan lawyer tells the story of Bartleby, the strangest law-copyist he has ever heard of. When business picked up, he hired Bartleby, whose sedate disposition seemed like a perfect balance to his other employees. He did an exceptional quantity of work for a short time. On Bartleby’s third day on the job, though, he made a surprising reply when asked to look over a document.

This story can be read in the preview of Classic Short Stories: The Complete Collection(50% in)

Public Domain Short Stories, Cont’d

“The Hounds of Fate” by Saki

Martin Stoner is a weary, hungry man wandering aimlessly. He happens upon a farm-house. Thinking he might buy a drink with his last coin, he approaches the door. Before he can knock, he’s greeted by an old man who addresses him in a surprising way.

This story can be read in the preview of The Hounds of Fate: 13 Tales of Terror(Pg 1)

“A Spark Neglected Burns the House” (“Quench the Spark”) by Leo Tolstoy

Ivan’s family is healthy, hard-working and prosperous and they live happily. The balance is upset by a feud with their neighbor, Gabriel. A hen belonging to Ivan’s daughter-in-law flew into Gabriel’s yard and laid an egg. When she inquires about it, Gabriel’s mother respond rudely. It quickly escalates into name calling and a shouting match. Legal proceeding follow. Ivan’s father, who used to run the farm, advises his family to reconcile, and not let this disagreement over a trifle get out of hand. His words go unheeded, and quarreling becomes a daily occurrence.

This story can be read in the preview of Collected Shorter Fiction of Leo Tolstoy: Vol 2(5% in)

“The Mark On the Wall” by Virginia Woolf

The narrator thinks back to when she first noticed the small round, black mark on the wall, above the mantlepiece. It sent her reflecting on the mystery and speed of life, the inaccuracy of thought and a variety of people and things. She wasn’t sure exactly what it was—a mark, a hole or a projection— and she resisted getting up and taking a really close look at it.

“The Fall of the House of Usher” by Edgar Allan Poe

The narrator visits his friend Roderick who, along with his sister, is suffering from an unusual illness. They were close friends as boys but he knows little of Roderick. He recently received a letter from his old friend, referencing his illness and asking him to visit right away. On approaching the house, he finds it dilapidated. His friend has also deteriorated.

Read “The Fall of the House of Usher”

“Paul’s Case” by Willa Cather

After a week’s suspension from his Pittsburgh High School, Paul appears before the faculty to account for himself. He’s disorderly and shows contempt for his teachers. He smiles through the litany of complaints made against him. The teachers feel there’s something not right about Paul. He works as an usher at Carnegie Hall. He has a strained relationship with his father, who wants him to be a responsible wage-earning family man when he grows up, but Paul is drawn to a life of wealth and glamour.

Read “Paul’s Case”

“The Bet” by Anton Chekhov

At a dinner party a banker argues that capital punishment is preferable to life imprisonment. A young lawyer disagrees, saying that he would rather life in prison over death. They bet two million rubles that the lawyer can’t stay isolated for fifteen years.

Read “The Bet”

“Il Conde” by Joseph Conrad

At the National Museum in Naples, the narrator meets an older man—intelligent, unaffected and with some money. The climate of Naples is good for his health. He’s correct and moderate in his habits. They spend a few evenings together before the narrator gets called away to care for an ill friend. While he’s away, the older man has a consequential experience.

Read “Il Conde”

“Bernice Bobs Her Hair” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Bernice, a young woman, is visiting her cousin Marjorie. Marjorie is a big hit with all the young men while Bernice is struggling. After a disappointing evening dance, Bernice overhears Marjorie talking about how socially inept she is.

Read “Bernice Bobs Her Hair”

“The Jumping-Off Place” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Miss Shortridge runs the Jumping-Off Place, a boarding house that is too full at the moment. Still, she’s allowing two more visitors due to a previous relationship. The Revered Joseph Whitcomb was her minister for about thirty years and she wanted to marry him. Mrs. Weatherby knew Miss Shortridge since girlhood, and Miss Shortridge saw her get married twice—occasions she will never forget. She’s interested in seeing these two significant people again.

“The Voice in the Night” by William Hope Hodgson

A schooner is approached by a small rowboat. The passenger doesn’t want any lanterns out or any direct contact with the crew. He only asks for some food to be floated out to him. He leaves after getting it, but returns soon after.

Read “The Voice in the Night”

“The Verdict” by Edith Wharton

At the height of his career as a painter, Jack Gisburn married a rich widow, moved to the Riviera and quit painting. The women whom he painted mourned his sudden departure—men and his fellow artists less so. On a trip to the Riviera three years later, it occurs to the narrator that he could check in on Gisburn and perhaps find out what happened.

Read “The Verdict”

“A Piece of String” by Guy de Maupassant

A man is walking to the market one day when he stops to pick up a piece of string. Soon after, it is reported that a wallet with 500 francs was lost. His act of picking up something makes him a suspect. He vehemently denies any guilt.

Read “A Piece of String”

This is just a sampling of the many public domain stories available.