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31 - The Novella: Between the Novel and the Story

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 November 2016

Gerri Kimber
Affiliation:
University of Northampton
Dominic Head
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham
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Summary

The novella – often considered to be the most sophisticated mode of short fiction – has attracted some of the most renowned authors writing in English from the middle of the nineteenth century onwards. It is, however, a complex mode, so complex, in fact, that no one seems quite able to define it. The question of length is often taken as a starting point to identify a prose form mid-way between a novel and a short story, but this tells us nothing about the specifics of its formal features, or aesthetic effects. This problem is compounded, because – as Malgorzata Trebisz observes – there are no particular literary techniques used exclusively by any one of the fictional prose forms: similar techniques can be found in the short story, the novella and the novel. According to Robert Scholes, the difference lies in the purpose for which certain techniques have been used within all three genres. Trebisz extends this argument further, noting that ‘there do exist certain techniques which statistically occur more frequently in the novellas than elsewhere’ (p. 2). This chapter will examine such techniques, using a variety of authors associated with the novella genre: Joseph Conrad, Henry James, James Joyce, Katherine Mansfield, D. H. Lawrence, H. E. Bates, Alan Sillitoe and Ian McEwan. Mansfield in particular, in revising her novella ‘The Aloe’ into the more condensed ‘Prelude’, offers an unrivalled opportunity to witness the creation of one of modernism's most celebrated short fictions.

Ian McEwan, a contemporary author whose use of the novella is a vital component of his literary endeavours, has an almost messianic zeal for the genre, affirming – controversially – that ‘the novella is the perfect form of prose fiction’. Examining its long tradition, he reveals how the genre demands very different qualities in a writer from the novel, citing the demands of economy which ‘push writers to polish their sentences to precision and clarity, to bring off their effects with unusual intensity, to remain focused on the point of their creation and drive it forward with functional single-mindedness, and to end it with a mind to its unity’.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2016

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References

Clements, Robert J. and Gibaldi, Joseph, Anatomy of the Novella: The European Tale Collection from Boccaccio and Chaucer to Cervantes (New York: New York University Press, 1977).
Mudford, Peter, Memory and Desire: Representations of Passion in the Novella (London: Duckworth, 1996).
Vezhlian, Evgeniia, ‘A Portrait of a Genre Against the Backdrop of a Prize: The Contemporary Novella and Tales of the Belkin Prize’, Russian Studies in Literature, 49:2, (Spring 2013), pp. 59–70.Google Scholar

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