In German, the word for ‘novel’ is roman, while the word for ‘novella’ is novelle. Similarly, the word roman translates as the English ‘novel’ in Dutch, French, Swedish, Danish, and Romanian languages, giving it particular significance over the novella as the established, premier literary form.
As opposed to the novel’s unlimited complexity, especially when introducing conflicts, themes, and events, the novella’s focus on a singular moral significance or climactic event tends to make it less structurally complex and shorter in length. The advantages of this are described by Robert Silverberg in the introduction to his anthology Sailing to Byzantium (2000):
“[The novella] is one of the richest and most rewarding of literary forms...it 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.”
Sometimes novellas are easy to spot thanks to declarative titling by the authors, for example Steve Martin’s 2000 book Shopgirl: A Novella or Don DeLillo’s 2001 book Pafko at the Wall: A Novella.
However, some popular novellas are often referred to in practice—incorrectly—as novels. The following well-known works are examples of novellas mistakenly referred to as novels:
- Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
- Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1902)
- The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1897)
- Death in Venice by Thomas Mann (1912)
- The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells (1898)
- Armageddon 2419 C.E. by Philip Francis Nowlan (1928)
Novella in Popular Culture
In modern literature, the novella—though still less renowned than the novel—has carved a niche particularly in respect to popular culture. While most novels are too long and complex to be accurately depicted in screen adaptations, novellas are more easily adaptable, and this case has had many examples. Particular to this category is American horror author Stephen King, who has written a large number of novels and novellas that have been adapted to feature film. His collection of four novellas titled Different Seasons alone featured three novellas adapted to the screen: "The Body" (Stand By Me, 1986), "Rita Hayworth & "The Shawshank Redemption" (The Shawshank Redemption, 1994), and "Apt Pupil" (Apt Pupil, 1994).
Novellas adapted to the screen:
- A River Runs Through It - 1976 novella by Thomas Maclean, adapted to the 1992 film of the same name directed by Robert Redford and starring Brad Pitt
- The Bicentennial Man - a 1976 novella by Isaac Asimov adapted to the 1999 film Bicentennial Man starring Robin Williams
- Breakfast at Tiffany's - a 1958 novella by Truman Capote adapted to the 1961 film of the same name starring Audrey Hepburn
- Heart of Darkness - the famous 1902 novella by Joseph Conrad that deals with colonialism and the ivory trade, which was the basis of the screenplay for the 1976 Vietnam War film Apocalypse Now, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starring Marlon Brando
- Of Mice and Men - a 1937 novella by John Steinbeck which was adapted several times, including the 1992 film Of Mice and Men starring Gary Sinise and John Malkovich
- The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - the 1886 novella by Robert Louis Stevenson, which has been adapted several times, most notably the 1941 film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde directed by Victor Fleming and starring Spencer Tracy
- The War of the Worlds - the 1898 science fiction masterpiece by H.G. Wells, famously read over the radio in 1938 by Orson Welles, and the 2005 film War of the Worlds directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise