Metafiction (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
The most common theme and technique in the contemporary novella is metafictional self-reflexivity, embodied in stories that have to do with the nature of storytelling itself. Philip Roth’s The Ghost Writer (1979), in which external reality and fictional reality become inextricably blurred as the central character tells a story about the almost mythical figure Anne Frank, is one example. Perhaps the most commercially successful attempt at this kind of self-reflexive fiction, however, is Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five: Or, The Children’s Crusade, a Duty-Dance with Death (1969), which uses the popular science-fiction genre as a vehicle to explore methods of storytelling.
More sophisticated than Slaughterhouse-Five are the metafictional works of John Barth, Robert Coover, and William H. Gass. Barth’s “Dunyazadiad” (in Chimera, 1972) reflects his own fascination with the notion of characters in fiction becoming readers or authors of the very fiction they inhabit. “Dunyazadiad” takes its premise and its situation from the classic Scheherazade story, as told by her younger sister, Dunyazade. Barth transports a modern storyteller (himself) back to “Sherry’s” aid to supply her with the stories from the future that she has told in the fictional past.
Coover traces his debts back to Cervantes, who created a synthesis between poetic analogy and literal history and thus gave birth to the modern...
(The entire section is 1397 words.)
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Bibliography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Clements, Robert J., and Joseph Gibaldi. Anatomy of the Novella: The European Tale Collection from Boccaccio and Chaucer to Cervantes. New York: New York University Press, 1977. Relevant historical survey and analysis of the theory and practice of the Renaissance novella from Giovanni Boccaccio to Miguel de Cervantes. Argues that because the form was middle-class in orientation, most novellas are ironic, dealing with characters thought to be inferior in power or intelligence to the reader.
Good, Graham. “Notes on the Novella.” In The New Short Story Theories, edited by Charles E. May. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1994. Concise historical survey of the debate about the novella’s basic characteristics and its relation to the short story and the novel. Focuses on the implications of the form being an imitation of a live telling in which the end of the story is known by the teller at the beginning.
Lee, A. Robert, ed. The Modern American Novella. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1989. Collection of essays by various critics on American novellas from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Examines, for example, Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and the novellas of J. D. Salinger and Saul Bellow.
(The entire section is 441 words.)