Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Great Novellas Introduction

Hello readers!  I am about to begin a new topical series of blog entries, this time focusing on excellent novellas that I think should be recognized as part of the Classic Literature canon.  I have done two series in the past, one about Contemporary Lit and one about Apocalyptic Lit, and I have enjoyed categorizing literature in this way and hope you have too. So now I am about to begin a "Great Novellas" series for you all.

I want to talk about novellas and short stories because I'm afraid they may be somewhat overlooked in Classic Literature.  Sometimes we view length as an accomplishment in literature in and of itself, which I think would be an unfair assumption.  It is true that there are many long novels that are truly excellent, such as The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, and Les Miserables.  But I do not think these are great simply for their numerous chapters; it is instead because the authors of each have clearly devoted considerable time and depth to each page.  I could offer several counterexamples of very long books that I do not think are all that wonderful, but I will refrain at this time.  My point is simply that just as we should not admire a book merely because it is long, so also we should not discredit a book just because it is quite short. 

Furthermore, I think novellas may sometimes require even more talent than fully developed novels because the authors cannot waste a single word.  Every piece of the story becomes absolutely essential, unlike several chapters that explain every individual aspect of a whale's anatomy and the minor details of manning a sperm boat.  (Whoops, I may have let it slip after all...)  My favorite quote to illustrate this comes from William Faulkner:

"I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing."

So let's take a cue from Faulkner and examine some of the amazing short stories and novellas in literature.  I have already included a couple of novellas in my blog so far, but not with this special concentration.  I recognize that a number of others before me have lauded short stories and novellas, and you have probably read a great deal of the ones I will mention.  So feel free to suggest any novellas and short stories you love along the way!

Part One: The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Part Two: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Part Three: Night by Elie Wiesel
Part Four: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Part Five: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Part Six: Animal Farm by George Orwell


IngridLola said...

Great idea! I love books that I can read in one sitting. My grandma loves to read but she's in a book group that refuses to read anything over 250 pages, so maybe you'll help me find some nice short ones to recommend to her. Haha

Adrian L. said...

Great blog!


Anonymous said...

Looking forward to this ques of yours. I've been reading a lot of novellas lately. I just love the form when it is well done.