The word “novella” comes from the Latin word novellus, a diminutive of the word novus, which means “new.” The term “novella” first became associated with the telling of stories in the thirteenth century with collections of newer versions of old saints’ tales, exempla, chivalric tales, and ribald stories. Eventually, the term became associated with tales that were fresh, strange, and unusual—stories, in short, that were worth the telling.
The most decisive historical event to establish the term “novella” as a designation for a new kind of fiction was Giovanni Boccaccio’s decision to give the name “novella” to the tales included in his Decameron: O, Prencipe Galetto (1349-1351; The Decameron, 1620). What made Boccaccio’s stories new was their marking a shift from the sacred world of Dante’s “divine” comedy to the profane world of Boccaccio’s “human” comedy. The resulting realism of The Decameron should not be confused, however, with the realism developed by the eighteenth century novel. The focus in Boccaccio’s tales is not on a character presented in a similitude of everyday life but on the traditional world of story, in which characters serve primarily as “functions” of the tale.
With Miguel de Cervantes in the sixteenth century, as with Boccaccio before him, something new also characterized the novella. First, Cervantes, in his Novelas ejemplares (1613; Exemplary Novels, 1846), did not present himself as a collector of traditional tales but as an inventor of original stories. As a result, he became an observer and recorder of concrete details in the external world and a student of the psychology of individual characters. Although plot was still important, character became more developed than it was in The Decameron, and thus psychological motivation rather than story motivation was emphasized. Characters existed not solely for the roles they played in the stories but also for their own sake, as if they were real.
In Germany, in the first quarter...
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