Saturday, July 08, 2006

Louis Auchincloss on the Five Best Novellas

The Long and the Short of It
The best novellas.

Saturday, July 8, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

From the Wall Street Journal

1. "Madame de Treymes" By Edith Wharton (Scribner's, 1907).

A notable form of fiction, the novella is approved more by the reading public of yesterday than of to day. Its length is hard to specify other than to say that it is usually not long enough to justify a separate publication under its own covers, yet it is certainly a useful form for any subject too simple for a novel but too complex to be fitted within the limits of a short story. Edith Wharton's "Madame de Treymes" is a remarkable example of the form. It is the story of the tactical defeat but moral victory of an honest and upstanding American in his struggle to win a wife from a tightly united but feudally minded French aristocratic family. He loses, but they cheat. It is essentially the same tale with the same moral as James's full-length novel "The American." In a masterpiece of brevity, Wharton dramatizes the contrast between the two opposing forces: the simple and proper old brownstone New York, low in style but high in principle, and the achingly beautiful but decadent Saint-Germain district of Paris. The issue is seamlessly joined.