The world of fiction today seems fairly neatly divided into novels and short stories. There was a time, though, when the novella had powerful claims as a preeminent literary genre. In the canon of high modernism and in the western literary marketplace 1880–1920, we find remarkable novellas by Herman Melville, Leo Tolstoy, Robert Louis Stevenson, Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Katherine Mansfield, Kate Chopin, William Faulkner, Joseph Conrad, Henry James, Edith Wharton, and many others. The goal of this seminar is to study these landmark texts, asking what is distinctive about fiction that exceeds the scope of the story or shrinks the scale of the novel. Is there a “theory of the novella” that explains the specific social and symbolic aims of the genre? To pursue our inquiry, we’ll consult several critical essays on this topic. And to extend our body of evidence into more contemporary and non-western writing, we’ll also consider novellas by Truman Capote, Toni Morrison, Ghassan Kanafani, Cynthia Ozick, Octavia Butler, N.K. Jemisin, Carmen Maria Machado, Gabriel García-Márquez, Lu Xun, Helen DeWitt, Vivek Shanbhag, and Mishima Yukio.
Since this is a Benjamin Franklin Seminar, the pace of reading will be brisk: 1-2 novellas per week. Graded requirements will include frequent short writing assignments, two 1500-word essays, and an oral final exam.