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Something Else to Ponder

August 3, 2007

I just ran across the following on another blog post devoted to “classy” insults of days gone by:

“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” (William Faulkner, about Ernest Hemingway)

As most of you know, these writers, both Nobel laureates, had a decades-long rivalry and writing styles at opposite ends of the spectrum–Faulkner was abstruse* and florid, and Hemingway was direct and spare. I am a long-time devotee of the latter and a firm believer in simplicity. In fact, I think it’s a testament to Hemingway’s brilliance that he could write so powerfully with so few flourishes. So I put it to you, readers: Is Faulkner’s dig a true insult, or is it an unwitting compliment?

* I had originally written “obtuse,” but Will pointed out that that has more the connotation of stupid, which wasn’t my intent. I just meant that he seems to be deliberately difficult. And this isn’t to say I don’t like Faulkner–I’ve read four of his books and enjoyed them to a certain extent (not as much as I enjoy Hemingway’s books). I just think his remark was wrong.


Posted in Word Use

Thought for the Day

August 3, 2007
1 Comment

Best thing I’ve read all week, in the NYT review of Becoming Jane:

“In the age of ‘whatever,’ who doesn’t relish receiving a scrupulously considered, grammatically correct answer to a question?”

Posted in Grammar

Why Everybody Hated ‘Tender Is the Night’ in 1934

August 1, 2007

From Malcolm Cowley’s introduction to the corrected 1951 edition of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender Is the Night (boldface ours; hyphen in “copy-edited” his):

It is not too late . . . to correct the mistakes in spelling and punctuation, and sometimes in grammar and chronology, that disfigure the first edition of Tender. On this mechanical level the book was full of errors; in fact, a combination of circumstances was required to get so many of them into one published volume. Fitzgerald had a fine ear for words, but a weak eye for them; he was possibly the worst speller who ever failed to graduate from Princeton. His punctuation was impulsive and his grammar more instinctive than reasoned. Maxwell Perkins, his editor, was better in all these departments, but had an aristocratic disregard for details so long as a book was right in its feeling for life. Since Fitzgerald was regarded as one of his special authors, the manuscript was never copy-edited by others. The author received the proofs while his wife was critically ill. He worked over them for weeks, making extensive changes and omitting long passages, but he was in no state to notice his own errors of detail. Scores of them slipped into the first edition and, though they were unimportant if taken separately, I suspect that they had a cumulative effect on readers and ended by distracting their attention, like flaws in a window through which they were looking at the countryside.

Posted in Excerpts