Top 10 Novellas: From Classic to Modern Literature

Author: Sherry Helms

‘Too short to be novels, too long to be short stories’ –this is what a novella is. Though the length that defines a novella is arbitrary, it can be between 17,500 and 40,000 words or less than 300 pages. Brevity is the soul of a novella. Some very important, rich literature has come in novella form, and among the best-known novellas, the following titles are the top 10 works of literature:

A Christmas Carol by  Charles DickensA celebration of Christmas, a tale of redemption and a critique on Victorian society, Dickens’ atmospheric novella follows the miserly, penny-pinching Ebenezer Scrooge who Views Christmas as ‘humbug’. It is only through a series of eerie, life-changing visits from the ghost of his deceased Business partner Marley and the Spirits of Christmas past, present and future that he begins to see the error of his ways.

The Time Machine by  H.G. WellsPublished in 1895, this science fiction novella is generally credited with the popularization of the concept of time travel using a vehicle that allows an operator to travel purposefully and selectively. The novel is considered one of the earliest works of science fiction and the progenitor of the “time travel” subgenre. Wells advanced his social and political ideas in this narrative of a nameless Time Traveller who is hurtled into the year 802,701 by his elaborate ivory, crystal, and brass contraption.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck The tragic story of the complex bond between two migrant laborers in Central California. They are George Milton and Lennie Small, itinerant ranch hands who dream of one day owning a small farm. But, their dreams of owing a farm goes terrible wrong. George acts as a father figure to Lennie, who is a very large, simple-minded man, calming him and helping to rein in his immense physical strength.

Animal Farm by George Orwell - This is an allegorical novella that, according to author, reflects events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917, and then on into the Stalin era in the Soviet Union.

When the downtrodden animals of Manor Farm overthrow their master Mr. Jones and take over the farm themselves, they imagine it is the beginning of a life of freedom and equality. But gradually a cunning, ruthless elite among them, masterminded by the pigs Napoleon and Snowball, starts to take control. Soon the other animals discover that they are not all as equal as they thought, and find themselves hopelessly ensnared as one form of tyranny is replaced with another. Orwell’s chilling ‘fairy story’ is a timeless and devastating satire of idealism betrayed by power and corruption.

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger – Originally published for adults, it has since become popular with adolescent readers for its themes of teenage confusion, angst, alienation, and rebellion. The majority of the novel takes place over two days in December 1949. 17-years-old Holden Caulfield, the book’s narrator and protagonist, addresses the reader directly from a hospital in Southern California, recounting the events leading up to his breakdown the previous December.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote - In this seductive, wistful masterpiece, Truman Capote created a woman, perhaps her best creation ever, whose name become an American cultural icon. The story revolves around Holly Golightly, a country girl turned New York café society girl, who floats lightly through life looking for where she belongs and believes that nothing bad can ever happen to you at Tiffany’s.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson - A groundbreaking horror fiction novella, it has been the major influence in the development of the zombie genre and in popularizing the concept of a worldwide apocalypse due to disease. Robert Neville may well be the last living man on Earth, but he is not alone. An incurable plague has mutated every other man, woman, and child into bloodthirsty, nocturnal creatures who are determined to destroy him. By day, he is a hunter, stalking the infected monstrosities through the abandoned ruins of civilization. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for dawn.

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess - This 1962 novella is a satire that portrays a future and dystopian Western society with a culture of extreme youth rebellion and violence. It explores the violent nature of humans, human free will to choose between good or evil, and the desolation of free will as a solution to evil.

The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway - One of Hemingway’s most famous works. Told in language of great simplicity and power, it centers upon Santiago, an aging Cuban fisherman who is down on his luck, and struggles with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. This short work of fiction was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953 and was cited by the Nobel Committee as contributing to the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Hemingway in 1954.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho - Every few decades a book is published that changes the lives of its readers forever. The Alchemist is such a book. This is the magical story of Santiago, an Andalusian shepherd boy who yearns to travel in search of a worldly treasure as extravagant as any ever found. From his home in Spain he journeys to the markets of Tangiers and across the Egyptian desert to a fateful encounter with the alchemist.

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