Longer than a short story but shorter than a novel, the novella appears to occupy a clear formal niche. However, novellas have posed problems for even the most basic taxonomies of literary criticism and publishing. Though the novella is defined by its length, length alone has never been sufficient to determine whether a text counts as a novella. Though the novella is a global form, shared among many national literary cultures, its transnational history is muddled by terminological inconsistency. This article sets out to understand the novella as a slippery form, one that slides through the institutional machinery that administers literary production. It centers its investigation on the United States during a period in global cultural history when the literary field was slowly coming into existence. In this environment, a group of long short stories or short novels—Nathaniel Hawthorne's “The Scarlet Letter,” Herman Melville's “Benito Cereno,” and Frederick Douglass's The Heroic Slave—revealed the incoherence of “literature” as it gradually assumed its modern form.

You do not currently have access to this content.