The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
Random header image... Refresh for more!

The Novella and Stefan Zweig

The novella—which is really a long short story or shortened novel—has long been popular with writers in Germany and Austria. I’m not sure why. Perhaps the tradition is stronger there. I’ve always liked the novella—a story of about 100 pages—since I often feel that novels are overblown—padded with extraneous stuff to fill the requisite 300 pages—and that short stories come and go too quickly—things I’d like to know are excised in the cause of brevity.

Two of the best stories in the novella tradition were written by Stefan Zweig—“The Royal Game” and “Amok.” “The Royal Game” describes the effect of Nazi interrogation and torture of a man who becomes a chess prodigy while confined. Understatement is used rather than providing gory details. We experience the before and after effects. “The Royal Game” is an inconic story and justifiably so because it describes the Nazi horrors in a way anyone can relate to. An ordinary man has been transformed by the Nazis into a “monster.” “Amok,” which reminds me of something Joseph Conrad might have written because of its use of a tale within a tale, presents one of Zweig’s favorite themes, the tragic effect women sometimes have on susceptible men. In the case of this story, both lives are ruined beyond redemption, and we twist in our chairs as we read, desperate for the next paragraph and frightened of what it might contain.

That Zweig was a supreme stylist is evident in these stories. He could construct a story as well as anyone. I sometimes wonder if it was his stylism that did him in. One can go on inventing things only so long before it becomes horrifying boring—not to the reader, of course, but to the poor drudge, mocking his own soul, who churns out the same stuff day after day.

1 comment

1 Angela { 01.15.11 at 2:56 pm }

You are right that the ‘novella’ or ‘Novelle’ as the Germans call it has a long tradition in German literature. Since 1764 (with the author Wieland) the word has been used for a specific genre and many discussions about its characteristics have been carried out between scolars and writers.

Most German philologists seem to agree that the most important characteristic for the novella is that it deals with one – often extraordinary – occurence, “eine unerhörte Begebenheit” as Goethe put it in 1827.

It is a popular genre in the Romantic period and deals with occurences of real life as opposed to other genres of this time:
Fairy tales (“Märchen”) and legends.

One of the early masters in German novella writing is Heinrich von Kleist. I consider his “Die Marquise von O” as his most fascinating story.

Zweigs stories are wonderful also, I agree