Germany and the Modern Short Story
Previous discussion has shown how the early nineteenth century American short story developed essentially from a synthesis of the best that two divergent traditions offered. The Americans’ model for the essay-sketch tradition came primarily from England; for contemporary Americans and Englishmen, however, the dominant written model for the other strain, that of the tale tradition, consisted chiefly of the literary Märchen (folktales) and Novellen (longer and relatively more realistic stories) of then-fashionable German writers. As was earlier noted, for example, the Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, achieved vast and immediate popularity by publishing short narratives based on their researches into Germanic folklore. Irving based “Rip Van Winkle” on a tale in a similar collection by Otmar. Such stories are called “fairy tales” in English, although often they contain no fairies at all but witches, trolls, giants, or ogres. What they all do contain is emphasis on a striking incident or series of incidents that take precedence over character, setting, and all other elements. In addition, as true folktales, they share a common origin in folk traditions; each, in this sense, is (despite the inevitable variations incorporated by each individual narrator) a very old story.
In contrast to these traditional folktales there developed in Germany a tradition of Novellen. The term Novellen derives from the Italian term novella, which signifies “a small new thing.” The sense of the word “new” in Novellen and novella (and in the French term nouvelle) might be taken to mean “unusual or surprising,” but in fact it seems most probably to have developed to distinguish a basically or at least largely original story from an essentially traditional story. The Novellen do tend to have a relatively more complex and realistic social background, but otherwise any artificial distinction between Märchen and Novellen becomes quite problematic when there is in both genres of German tale a fondness for particular...
(The entire section is 868 words.)