31 October 2011

Joseph Conrad and the novella

Joseph Conrad explored just about every genre of prose fiction. He wrote novels, long and short stories, travel books, memoirs, essays, and even experimented with collaborative writing. But the genre in which he seems to be most comfortable and in which he created some of his most carefully crafted works is the novella. This is a work which is longer than a story but shorter than a novel. But it's not just a matter of length. The novella usually has very few characters, the events of the narrative are concentrated on a single issue, and that issue itself is usually of universal rather than just local or temporary significance.

A short story may be based on no more than an anecdote, whereas a novella deals with large scale general themes. A novel can have a cast of dozens and feature multiple locations, whereas a novella can have just two or even one main character, and the setting is likely to remain focussed in one place.

We've just posted study guides to two of Conrad's best novellas, both of them based on his own experiences as a young sea captain. The Shadow-Line deals with the character-building drama of a ship which is becalmed with a sick crew, and The Secret Sharer explores notions of 'the double' and 'alternative selves' when a young captain allows a murderer to hide on board his ship.

More on the novella here

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