It was this which made Dorothea so childlike, and according to some judges, so stupid, with all her reputed cleverness; as, for example, in the present case of throwing herself, metaphorically speaking, at Mr. Casaubon’s feet, and kissing his unfashionable shoe-ties as if he were a Protestant Pope.
—George Eliot, from Middlemarch
Poets think in lines, prose writers in sentences; the best of both work from sound to sense, with an ear for the music in their compositions. S for Sentence celebrates lyricism in prose, the play and craft at work in the artful sentence. We post a sentence a month along with comments by a guest writer on the craft that shapes it, on what makes it great. In one or two sentences.
—Pearl Abraham, Editor
The convolutions of this sentence—it galumphs along like a bright but clumsy girl full of earnest ardent misplaced passion—give it a pushme-pullyou twisting texture, all lurches and clauses and punctuated asides, sibilance and popping p’s. To put it mildly, the language is not beautiful—there’s no lyricism here, no painterliness or sensuous linguistic aesthetic calling attention to itself; instead, we have the authoritative observations of a sharp narrative eye and mind—gossipy, judgmental, ironic, sly, hissing. The rhythmically emphasized words: “this,” “stupid,” “cleverness,” “some judges,” “kissing his unfashionable shoe-ties” serve as verbal eye-rolls directed at both Dorothea and Mr. Casaubon. Every beat of this sentence pulls the reader, clause by clause, into colluding with the narrator in fun-poking at both characters: “childlike” is condescending; “stupid” is damning; and “with all her reputed cleverness” is the tipping point—any identification we might have felt, any urge to stick up for poor Dorothea, is swept away by that dry, dismissive swipe. The accumulation of amused scorn is accentuated by the alliterative p’s—“stupid,” “reputed,” “present,” “speaking,” culminating in the plosive punch line: “Protestant Pope,” which is funny to the reader, pathetic for poor Dorothea, for whom this self-sacrifice is, in fact, the ultimate glory.
—Kate Christensen is the author of The Great Man, The Last Cruise, and The Epicure's Lament