AskDefine | Define novella

Dictionary Definition

novella n : a short novel [syn: novelette] [also: novelle (pl)]

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  1. a short novel


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novella s
  1. feminine of novello


  1. tale, story, short story
  2. news


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Extensive Definition

A novella is a written, fictional, prose narrative longer than a novelette but shorter than a novel. While there is some disagreement of what length defines a novella, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Awards for science fiction define the novella as having a word count between 17,500 and 40,000.
Although the novella is a common literary genre in several European languages, it is less common in English. English-speaking readers may be most familiar with the novellas of John Steinbeck, particularly Of Mice and Men and The Pearl, Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis and In the Penal Colony, George Orwell's Animal Farm, Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's, Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, Philip Roth's Goodbye, Columbus and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. Jack Kerouac has written many novellas such as Pic, Tristessa, The Subterraneans, and Satori in Paris. Most of the best-known works of H. P. Lovecraft are novellas, including The Shadow out of Time, The Dunwich Horror and The Shadow Over Innsmouth.
Like the English word "novel", the English word "novella" is derived from the Italian word "novella" (plural: "novelle"), for a tale, a piece of news. As the etymology suggests, novellas originally were news of town and country life worth repeating for amusement and edification.


As a literary genre, the novella's origin lay in the early Renaissance literary work of the Italians and the French. Principally, by Giovanni Boccaccio (1313–1375), author of The Decameron (1353)—one hundred novelle told by ten people, seven women and three men, fleeing the Black Death by escaping from Florence to the Fiesole hills, in 1348; and by the French Queen, Marguerite de Navarre (1492–1549), [aka Marguerite de Valois, et. alii.], author of Heptaméron (1559)—seventy-two original French tales (structured like The Decameron).
Not until the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth centuries did writers fashion the novella into a literary genre structured by precepts and rules. Contemporaneously, the Germans were the most active writers of the Novelle (German: "Novelle"; plural: "Novellen"). For the German writer, a novella is a fictional narrative of indeterminate length—a few pages to hundreds—restricted to a single, suspenseful event, situation, or conflict leading to an unexpected turning point (Wendepunkt), provoking a logical, but surprising end; Novellen tend to contain a concrete symbol, which is the narration's steady point.

Novella versus novel

In German, Norwegian, Danish and Dutch, the word for "novella" is novelle and the word for "novel" is Roman. In French "novella" is nouvelle (but a "nouvelle" is actually a short story, not a novella) and "novel" is roman; in Italian too "short story" is novella and "novel" is romanzo, while "novella" rather corresponds to romanzo breve. In Romanian "novella" is nuvelǎ and "novel" is roman. In Swedish "short story" is novell and "novel" is roman. In Danish and Norwegian"novella"/"short story" is novelle and "novel" is roman. In Finnish "short story" is novelli and "novel" is romaani. In Russian, novella is "povest" (повесть), while "novel" is "roman" (роман); short story is "rasskaz" (рассказ) and it is the extremely brief form that is called "novella" ('новелла'). In Polish "short story" is nowela and "novel" is powieść. This etymological distinction avoids confusion of the literatures and the forms, with the novel being the more important, established fictional form. The Austrian writer Stefan Zweig's (1881–1942) Die Schachnovelle (1942) (literally, "The Chess Novella", but translated in 1944 as The Royal Game) is an example of a title naming its genre.
Commonly, longer novellas are referred to as novels; The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde and Heart of Darkness are sometimes called novels, as are many science fiction works such as The War of the Worlds and Armageddon 2419 A.D. Occasionally, longer works are referred to as novellas, with some academics positing 100,000 words as the novella‒novel threshold. However, since this figure extrapolates to about 500 pages, such an interpretation would only be made by someone who believes that no literary work of less than 500 pages can rightly be called a novel. Conversely, an interpretation of a novella as being 10,000 words or longer means a limit of about 50 pages, which is far more commonly thought of as short-story territory. A better set of parameters is this: 1-99 pages/short story. 100-199 pages (or approximately 20,000-40,000 words)/novella. 200 or more pages/novel. This difficulty in defining the empirical parameters of the novella genre is indicative of its shifting and diverse nature as an art form.
Stephen King, in his introduction to Different Seasons, an anthology of four of his novellas, has called the novella "an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic"; King notes the difficulties of selling a novella in the commercial publishing world, since it does not fit the typical length requirements of either magazine or book publishers. Despite these problems, however, the novella's length provides unique advantages; in the introduction to a novella anthology titled Sailing to Byzantium, Robert Silverberg writes:
[The novella] is one of the richest and most rewarding of literary allows for more extended development of theme and character than does the short story, without making the elaborate structural demands of the full-length book. Thus it provides an intense, detailed exploration of its subject, providing to some degree both the concentrated focus of the short story and the broad scope of the novel.
In his essay "Briefly, the case for the novella", Canadian author George Fetherling (who wrote the novella Tales of Two Cities) said that to reduce the novella to nothing more than a short novel is like "saying a pony is a baby horse."


novella in Belarusian: Навэла
novella in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Навэла
novella in Czech: Novela (literatura)
novella in Danish: Novelle
novella in German: Novelle
novella in Estonian: Novell
novella in Spanish: Novela corta
novella in French: Nouvelle
novella in Scottish Gaelic: Nobhaileag
novella in Croatian: Novela
novella in Italian: Novella (letteratura)
novella in Hebrew: נובלה
novella in Georgian: ნოველა
novella in Luxembourgish: Novell
novella in Lithuanian: Novelė
novella in Hungarian: Kisregény
novella in Dutch: Novelle (proza)
novella in Japanese: 中編小説
novella in Polish: Nowela
novella in Portuguese: Novela
novella in Russian: Новелла (литература)
novella in Slovak: Novela (literatúra)
novella in Slovenian: Novela (književnost)
novella in Serbian: Новела
novella in Swedish: Kortroman
novella in Ukrainian: Повість
novella in Walloon: Pitit roman
novella in Chinese: 中篇小說
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