Monday, July 10, 2006

Louis Auchincloss picks five novellas

Louis Auchincloss named his five best novellas for Opinion Journal.

Number one:

"Madame de Treymes" by Edith Wharton (Scribner's, 1907)

A notable form of fiction, the novella is approved more by the reading public of yesterday than of to day. Its length is hard to specify other than to say that it is usually not long enough to justify a separate publication under its own covers, yet it is certainly a useful form for any subject too simple for a novel but too complex to be fitted within the limits of a short story. Edith Wharton's "Madame de Treymes" is a remarkable example of the form. It is the story of the tactical defeat but moral victory of an honest and upstanding American in his struggle to win a wife from a tightly united but feudally minded French aristocratic family. He loses, but they cheat. It is essentially the same tale with the same moral as James's full-length novel "The American." In a masterpiece of brevity, Wharton dramatizes the contrast between the two opposing forces: the simple and proper old brownstone New York, low in style but high in principle, and the achingly beautiful but decadent Saint-Germain district of Paris. The issue is seamlessly joined.

Click here to read about Auchincloss's other four selections.

Louis Auchincloss was honored a few years ago as a "Living Landmark" by the New York Landmarks Conservancy. He has written more than sixty books, including the story collection Manhattan Monologues and the novel The Rector of Justin. He lives in New York City and is a recent president of the Academy of Arts and Letters. His latest book is The Young Apollo and Other Stories.

I've been noodling on a post about my own favorite novellas. In case I don't get around to writing it up any time soon, here are two novellas sure to make my top five: Leo Tolstoy's Hadji Murat and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

--Marshal Zeringue