This week I'm thinking about the novella which is too long for a short story and too short for a novel. I can't count the number of times I've been told that publishers look down on them because they are hard to sell.
Look at the confusion about what the word really means. It’s Italian for a “little novelty.” Think about tales like the Arabian Nights. Now it means a prose narrative of intermediate length.
This length ranges roughly from 20,000 to 40,000 words, or in an average publication something between 60 and 120 pages. Compared to a short story there is more room to develop round characters and an interesting plot. The main difference with a novel is that it centres around one main character and it has no subplots. I love them!
Here are some of my all time favourite stories are novellas.
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
The narrator is Mr Utterson, a lawyer who observes two people: the scientist Dr Henry Jekyll and the murderer Mr Edward Hyde. He finds out that Dr Jekyll actually has a split personality and that Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same person. Dr Hyde believed that every man has good and evil incorporated within himself, and he invented a potion to separate these two. I have yet to see a film that is faithful to the original excellent plot.
The Time Machine
H. G. Wells (1895)
An English scientist invents a machine to travel in time. He travels to the year 802,701 A.D. and discovers two species: the small, child-like Eloi, and the aggressive, ape-like Morlocks, who live under the ground. He finds out that humanity has evolved into these two species, a result of the separation between leisure class and working class.
Of Men and Mice
John Steinbeck (1937)
My only argument with this one is that they use it in schools instead of Grapes of Wrath. George Milton and Lennie Small are two field workers traveling through California in search of employment.
The Turn of the Screw
Henry James (1898)
In the introduction, an unnamed narrator listens to a man who starts reading a manuscript written by a governess. Together with a housekeeper, she became responsible for Miles and Flora, a orphaned boy and a girl living in a country house without their uncle. The governess started seeing the ghosts of two former employers around the house. In this eerie atmosphere her concern grew over the safety of the children. It reminds me of my uni days.
Franz Kafka (1915)
I felt so grown up at university reading this and discussing it over coffee. A traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, wakes up transformed into a giant insect. Because of this he cannot go to work. The interesting question is how his family and his employer will deal with the absurd situation. The story can be read as a reflection on how society treats people who are different in some way or another.
A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens (1843)
Ebenezer Scrooge, is visited by the ghost of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, and by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come. This will finally convince him to change his attitude, and become more generous towards society, and towards his clerk Bob Cratchit and invalid son Tiny Tim who I personally found really annoying and I think would have probably enjoyed dying and becoming a martyr.
George Orwell (1945) (Eric Arthur Blair)
The main characters are intelligent animals. And this story blew my mind when I was at school. Although everybody is supposed to be equal, the pigs are more equal than the others. The story shows how utopian ideas can lead to exactly the opposite of what was intended: a dystopian society. The farm represents the Soviet Union. Napoleon and Snowball are based on Stalin and Trotsky.