Giovanni Boccaccio, translated by J. G. Nichols

Colin Burrow writes:

This is the central distinction between a writer of novelle and a novelist. Dickens and George Eliot didn’t produce plots that invite elaboration or which could be sweated down to the skeletal form required for oral delivery. The effect of a 19th-century realist novel is to make a reader feel that all the spaces have been filled, all options already imagined within it. The novella in its early form is paradoxically much more spacious: it is underelaborated, allowing its readers to fill in its gaps of motivation and description. As a result, Boccaccio’s tales often offend the central post-Romantic, post-novelistic convictions that narratives explain what it feels like to be another person, or that they widen human sympathies. Repeatedly, he puts people in situations that must give rise to complex feelings, but at best he ascribes to his characters one, or sometimes two, of a small palette of primary emotions (lust, pity, rage, wonder). More usually he just lets action speak.

(LRB 12 March 2009)

Published by Oneworld Classics Ltd
01 May 2008
ISBN: 9781847490575