Review: Two Novellas from Flaubert and Dostoevsky

I recently stumbled across a sale that Melville House Publishers was having on their novella series.  They have released 56 novellas from famous authors across the world.  I chose two titles, A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert and The Eternal Husband by Fodor Dostoevsky to review here.  Please check out all of the great titles in their selection.  You can even buy a subscription to the novella series and have novellas show up on your doorstep every month: http://www.mhpbooks.com/series/the-art-of-the-novella/

A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert:
A simple heartThis novella introduces us to a simple servant woman who is cast out of her own home as an orphan at an early age and searches for intimacy and love for the rest of her life.  Felicite falls in love with a young man who ends up rejecting her so that he can marry a rich, old widow and avoid conscription.  After this disappointing heartache, Felicite never finds another man that she can trust her heart to.  When she comes into the service of Madame Aubain, a young widow with two small children, she is the most faithful and loyal servant anyone could ask for.  Felicite bestows love on the two children who eventually leave home for school and meet a sorrowful end due to illness.  Felicite is also given a parrot which she lavishes with love and attention.  But, like everyone else in her life that she has loved, he dies and leaves her.  This is not a tale with a happy ending but gives us a realistic view of life, love and loss.

 

The Eternal Husband by Fodor Dostoevsky:
The eternal husbandThe story opens with Velchaninov living in St. Petersburg in an apartment flat by himself trying to iron out the details of a lawsuit.  He has become increasingly depressed and melancholy and has eventually cut himself off from all of his friends and acquaintances.  One day an old friend, whom he has not seen for nine years, shows up on Velchaninov’s doorstep.  He is stunned to see his friend after so many years and further shocked when Trusotsky announces that his wife has died of consumption.  Velchaninov had an affair with Trusotsky’s wife and that is the main reason he hadn’t visited the couple for nine years.  When Trusotsky’s wife broke the affair off, Velchaninov vowed never to see either of the again.

Velchaninov describes Trusotsky as “an eternal husband,” which to him means a man that is subservient to a domineering wife.  Nowadays we might call Trusotsky “henpecked” or “whipped.”  Trusotsky descends into a depression that is fueled by excessive drinking; he turns out to be a man who cannot live without a wife, who cannot operate in the world without the confines of a marriage.  In typical Dostoevsky fashion, we get a glimpse into the male psyche and an interesting and ironic storyline.  I thoroughly enjoyed this story as much as his longer works.

According to the Melville House website, novellas are oftentimes ignored by academics and publishers.  I would love to hear about other readers’ favorite choices as far as this overlooked style of writing.  Do you like novellas and, if so, what are some of your favorites?

 

18 Comments

Filed under Classics, France, Literature in Translation, Novella, Russian Literature

18 responses to “Review: Two Novellas from Flaubert and Dostoevsky

  1. Merimee’s Carmen is considered a novella, and a great read, especially if one likes the opera. I took a college course on ‘European Short Fiction’ and we read some longish novellas including The Simple Heart and a different one by Dostoevsky, called Notes from the Underground–this latter one turned out to be the one that stuck with me because of its atmosphere, and I highly recommend it!

    Like

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings

    I love novellas and MHP publish some great ones, as do NYRB – check out The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares from them; one of the best books I’ve read!

    Like

  3. I’m a fan of novellas as there’s something very appealing about being to read a complete book in a couple of hours! A fairly recent favourite: Severina by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, which I reviewed last year. Have you read it by any chance?

    Love the Melville House series, and the two you’ve reviewed here sound excellent.

    Like

  4. I like kovellas my favourites are the Peirene ones Meike seems to find some great books for her press I like the meville ones but not so easy to buy in shops here

    Like

  5. Jonathan

    I sometimes think that short stories and novellas are superior to longer novels; of course it depends on the tale itself but I do like reading a tale in one go.

    I find a lot of novels and films these days are far too long and for no real justifiable reason. There’s a real art to editing.

    Like

  6. The idea that novellas are ignored or overlooked by academics is so preposterous that I wonder what could be meant by the statement. The Melville House series includes “The Dead,” for pity’s sake.

    Anyway, German and Russian literature both have especially rich novella traditions. The 19th century German-language fiction canon is almost nothing but novellas – ETA Hoffmann, Theodor Storm, Theodor Fontane, Arthur Schnitzler, and many others were specialists in the form. There are many more significant long books in the 20th century, but most writers also wrote Novellen – Thomas Mann, Kafka, etc. Such a rich tradition in German literature, one that is very much alive.

    Russian, too. I wrote a post long ago title “Russian books are short” because I was so irritated by the insistence that Russian literature was particularly characterized by long books. Complete nonsense. For almost every major fiction writer, some, or many, of their best works are novellas.

    My anecdotal observation is that many new literatures – “new” is meant vaguely – abound in short works, perhaps because of economic constraints or problems in publishing (so novellas are not neglected but encouraged). Many 20th century African literatures, for example (Senegal, Nigeria) are full of outstanding short books, with relatively few big epics.

    Like

    • Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply. I have especially been enjoying Russian novellas-Chekhov, Tolstoy and Turgenev. Have you seen the titles from Peirene Press? They are dedicated to brining novellas into English translation. They have some great selections.

      Like

    • Those Peirene books are awful, you know, contemporary. Fifty years from now, I will read a bunch of them. (Actually, I have read one, the Pia Juul anti-mystery).

      Like

  7. Thanks for the reviews! I’ve been wanting to read these books for some time. I love the idea of novellas and novelettes, especially when you want the satisfaction of finishing a book in a short time. I recently read The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman which is classified as a novella. I’m trying to read the novellas produced by Quattro Books to discover new-to-me Canadian writers.

    Like

  8. I was really pleased when Melville House reprinted Machado de Assis’ The Alienist in their novella series – he’s a writer I love. Did you get that one?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Tony

    I’ve read a fair bit of Dostoyevsky, but not this one (one to try at some point…). Novellas are all well and good, but I have to say that I do enjoy the big thick ones more (‘The Idiot’, ‘The Brothers Karamazov’). As Tom says, Russian lit is more than big books, but they’re certainly a major (and enjoyable) part of it 😉

    Like

    • I prefer the larger Russian Lit books as well. But the novella is a great place to start for those who want an intro. to any genre or author before they dive into the larger works.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s