A Dozen of My Favorite Novellas Written by Women

6211222294_4e421aa9ab_mNovellas are short and sometimes sweet and sometimes not sweet at all.   A reader does not need to invest much time in a novella, yet the best of these short novels can affect one tremendously.  Here are some by female writers which are favorites of mine.  See also “A Dozen of My Favorite Novellas Written by Men”.

‘Ethan Frome’ by Edith Wharton (1911)   This winter novella is by one of the great United States writers. It also may have scared many off sledding for years.

“They seemed to come suddenly upon happiness as if they had surprised a butterfly in the winter woods” ― Edith Wharton, ‘Ethan Frome’

 ‘Miss Lulu Bett’ by Zona Gale (1920)   I read this book because Zona Gale was born in Portage, Wisconsin which isn’t too far from my boyhood home near Sparta, Wisconsin.  “Miss Lulu Bett” was a sensation in the 1920s, adapted into a play, and turned into a high quality silent movie in 1921.  Zona Gale was an early feminist, but “Miss Lulu Bett” is a light, playful and still enjoyable novella.

 9781558324824_p0_v1_s260x420‘Mrs. Caliban’ by Rachel Ingalls (1982)  In the 1980s, Rachel Ingalls was hailed as one of the best young writers. I’ve read most of her work. Now she has almost totally disappeared from the literary scene, certainly not due to a lack of talent but apparently on her own preference.  “Mrs. Caliban” is a bizarre story of an affair between a California housewife and a green aquatic creature named Larry.

 jeanbrodie‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ by Muriel Spark (1961)  No other novella covers as much ground as “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” as we follow six girls in the Brodie set from the age of 12 to the age of 18 as well as several teachers at the Marcia Blaine School in Edinburgh.  Is Miss Jean Brodie a good teacher or a bad teacher?  Interesting question.

 ‘The Visitor’ by Maeve Brennan (1940s, 2000)  “The Visitor” is a dark story of estrangement  about a young woman’s painful return from Paris to her home in Ireland.   This masterpiece was Maeve Brennan’s earliest work, written in the 1940s but not published until the year 2000.

 ‘The Bookshop’ by Penelope Fitzgerald (1978)   I could have picked any one of several strong Penelope Fitzgerald works that could have qualified as novellas.  A widowed woman opens a bookshop, and its success spurs the hostility of the other shopkeepers in the neighborhood.

13100188 ‘Loving Sabotage’ by Amelie Nothomb (1993)  A light-hearted novella about childhood.  This is a good place to start (Complete Review gives it an A+) with Belgian writer Amelia Nothomb.

‘Cranford’ by Mrs. Gaskell (1853) – In “Cranford”, Mrs Gaskell writes of an English country village, and she gently but thoroughly satirizes its inhabitants.

“But I was right. I think that must be an hereditary quality, for my father says he is scarcely ever wrong.” ― Mrs. Gaskell, Cranford

‘The Shawl’ by Cynthia Ozick (1989)  A pitch perfect story of Rosa and Stella who are locked in a German concentration camp.  The story picks up 40 years later when Rosa and Stella are refugees in the United States.

“We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.” – Cynthia Ozick

 The_Ballad_of_the_Sad_Cafe_by_Carson_McCullers‘The Ballad of the Sad Café’ by Carson McCullers (1951)  This is a southern United States story about the mysterious nature of love, the strange personal roadblocks that stand in love’s way.

“And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being loved is intolerable to many.” ― Carson McCullers, ‘The Ballad of the Sad Cafe’.

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Mitsou’ by Colette  (1919)  A love affair between Mitsou who is a petite music hall singer / dancer and a nameless lieutenant mostly told in letters and dialogue.  Having worked in music halls herself, Colette wrote about what she knew, and her novellas are delightful.

‘Black Water’ by Joyce Carol Oates (1992)  This is the Ted Kennedy Chappaquiddick novella.  Oates’ obsessions can infuriate, her plot lines can be artificial and clanky, but often her fiction can be interesting and moving in the extreme.  I keep coming back to her writing.

These are all by women.  Men’s novellas will follow in a few weeks.

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17 responses to this post.

  1. What a great list! I’ve read only a few of these: Mrs. Caliban is one of my favorites. You’ve recommended Miss Lulu Bett to me before and I have it on my e-reader (free from manybooks.net). I haven’t read Mitsou, either, though I’m SUPPOSED to be reading all Colette’s books. Another one to find at a book sale…

    Thanks for the list!

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    • Hi Kat,
      I saw this article in the Guardian from a couple of years ago wondering about what happened to Rachel Ingalls. They didn’t know what she was currently doing either. In the 1990s, she was nearly my favorite writer.

      And, yes, ‘Miss Lula Bett’ was one of my overlooked novels from the Twenties also.

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  2. Great list – what taste!

    Ethan Frome – “scared people off sledding for years” 🙂

    Of course Miss Jean Brodie…

    And you reminded me how much I loved Carson McCullers as a teenager – such intense yearning characters.

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    • Hi Denise,
      Thank You for stopping by.
      Carson McCullers left us too soon, and she didn’t write that much, but ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’, ‘A Member of the Wedding’, and ‘The Ballad of the Sad Cafe’ are excellent.

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      • Frankie from Member of the Wedding is one of the best and most memorable characters ever.

        Better to write a few truly memorable volumes than lots and lots that will be forgotten.

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        • Hi Denise,
          Here is a quote regarding Carson McCullers from another of my favorite writers :
          “Mrs. McCullers and perhaps Mr. Faulkner are the only writers since the death of D. H. Lawrence with an original poetic sensibility. I prefer Mrs. McCullers to Mr. Faulkner because she writes more clearly; I prefer her to D. H. Lawrence because she has no message.” – Graham Greene

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  3. Great list, Tony. Have only read a few of yours – Wharton, Spark and Gaskell. I have the Fitzgerald in my TBR pile and would love to read some of the others. I adore a good novella.

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    • Hi WhisperingGums,
      I remember someone predicting that there would be more novellas with people looking for short books to review on their blogs, but so far that doesn’t seem to be the case. I suspect ‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton at 800+ pages will win the Booker, and also Donna Tartt’s new one The Goldfinch is 700+.pages.

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      • No, I don’t believe many predictions about reading and writing really. Readers and writers are so diverse … And of course, just because novellas are short doesn’t mean they are quicker or easier to read does it? Not many page turners are novellas.

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        • Hi WhisperingGums,
          True, true, it is hard to predict what’s next. One would have thought there would by now be better ways to market individual short stories, but that hasn’t happened yet, and short story collections still lag in sales. There is still the idea of living in a novel for a length of time that still gives long novels their appeal.

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          • Exactly. Despite all the “short attention span” complaints and predictions therefrom, shorter works have not made up any ground perhaps because shorter works often require more attention.

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  4. Posted by LisaO on February 27, 2014 at 6:52 PM

    Have your read North and South, Mrs. (Elizabeth) Gaskell’s novel that was serialized and edited by Charles Dickens? Just watched and very much enjoyed the 2004 BBC dramatization, North & South. It was a compelling romance in the context of the class rift between the nouveau riche manufacturers and factory workers in the newly industrialized North of England and the landed gentry and farmers of the South. The novel has been described as a Pride and Prejudice for the Industrial Age. So now I would like to read that as well as Cranford.

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    • Hi Lisa,
      No, I haven’t read ‘North and South’, but I see from the Hennepin Library website that the DVD is very popular with all 5 copies checked out. Elizabeth Gaskell is rising in literary standing, and she is now seen as the missing link between Jane Austen and George Eliot. I know ‘Cranford’ is excellent, and I’ve heard only great things about ‘North and South’.

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      • Interesting Tony. I have loved Gaskell since my teens when I first read Cranford. It’s the one of hers closest to Austen. I’ve read three others – North and South, Ruth and Wives and daughters. North and South, in particular is closer to Eliot (with a nod, without the grotesqueness, and melodrama) to Dickens I reckon.

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        • Hi WG,
          Since you are the world’s greatest Jane Austen fan, I’ll take your word on Cranford. As much as I liked all of Jane Austen’s novels, I like George Eliot better, especially MiddleMarch. My two favorite English language novels are MiddleMarch and Vanity Fair.

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          • Posted by LisaO on February 28, 2014 at 5:59 AM

            Hi Tony,

            The romance between the headstrong Margaret and Thornton is reminiscent of that between Elizabeth and Darcy in its banter, misunderstandings, estrangement and gradual development of mutual affection. Both vehicles present an affectionate portrait of the heroines’ families with their undeniable foibles. My recollection of Middlemarch is that the style is far more lugubrious though maybe it’s time to revisit it. North and South addresses serious themes like social injustice and death but there was an underlying optimism and idealism which allows for a definitively happy ending. Of course, I am only speaking from the perspective of the miniseries. I just downloaded N and S for free on ibooks and look forward to reading the thing itself.

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            • Hi Lisa,
              Oh, the nerve, to call probably my favorite novel ‘lugubrious’ (have you ever used that word in Scrabble?). Casaubon in Middlemarch is definitely a lugubrious person, but I didn’t find the novel itself lugubrious at all.
              I recollect we’ve had our differences about Elizabeth and Darcy too.

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