#1: The Awakening, by Kate Chopin

I first read The Awakening as part of an undergraduate Narrative Fiction course, and so far it remains my favourite novella—if not my favourite book. I’m currently working on a stage-play adaptation as part of a Script Adaptation course, so now is the perfect time for a close re-reading.


Written in 1899 by Kate Chopin, its publication was met with charges of immorality, ruining Chopin’s literary and social reputation in a tragic example of life imitating art. While it retains some aspect of Chopin’s earlier work (short stories that were often trivially described as “local colour”), The Awakening moves beyond these, into what were deemed socially unacceptable areas—particularly for a female writer—and contains an early-modernist style that at first holds readers at a distance but then gradually draws us into Edna’s psyche, a shifting narration that formally echoes the shifts in Edna’s own situation.

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The Arrival / The Opening

Oh. My. Fucking. God.

A very special box arrived today, and look what greeted me from the top layer:

 

The opening

 

I got a bit excited. A mess may or may not have been made. OK a mess was made:

 

Opened

 

I brought a few well-known favourites to the top. And then I went through them all, wondering where to start. What order should I read these in? Alphabetical by author? This has the advantage of reading consecutive works by the same author if they appear more than once, allowing me to make sparkling insights into their novella oeuvre. Reverse alphabetical? (because my last name is Young and alphabetical gets a bit unfair!!) Or should I go totally random? Pick one from the box and see what happens? Some other method?

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What even is a novella?

The great battle of literary forms seems to focus primarily on the short story versus the novel, with the general consensus being that the novel is superior in its greater scope and possibilities—just try selling a short-story collection to a publisher!—but this over-simplification neglects poetry; it neglects the ultra-short gems of flash fiction that are prevalent online; and it neglects the novella.

Personally, I love them all. So why focus this site on novellas? And what even are they?

Well. The first answer is simple: the novella is oft-neglected, and yet I’ve enjoyed so many of them in the past few years. They deserve the increased attention that they seem to be getting. And they deserve more!

But what is a novella? Is it just a short novel?

Well yeah. Type the question into Google and you’ll be told that a novella is “a short novel or a long short story”. But how long is a piece of string?

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Yes. All of them.

In late 2014 Melville House announced their Art of the Novella series, an admirable project to publish classic novellas in book and ebook form. To celebrate the launch, they offered the first fifty-six of the books at a special price.

I couldn’t resist.

There have been some problems with the international shipping, but I’m expecting the books to arrive soon. When they do, I’m going to stare them in the face and read—in the words of Honey Bunny from Pulp Fiction—”everything motherfucking last one” of them.

honeybunny

Along the way I’ll post reviews, my thoughts on the novella as an art form, favourite quotes and whatever else I can come up with. It could take years, but I’m in this for the long haul.

Join me!

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