The party then gathered round the fire to hear Lady Catherine determine what weather they were to have on the morrow.
–Jane Austen, from Pride and Prejudice
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
—Stephanie Grant, Guest Editor
This sentence sums up the whole of an evening with the grande dame of the de Bourghs, a momentous occasion marked by a stately tempo that quickens in the end to a note of triumph. The narrator harmonizes so completely with the great lady – pitch perfect, and in the same register, almost (but not quite) a slice of free indirect style – what we hear is less like an impersonation and more like an embodiment. Crisp. Unequivocal. And pithy with a purpose: she takes the dozen or so diners and conflates them into a single word – the party. Into orbit they go. Here the two most important bodies in the universe: Lady Catherine and the audience for Lady Catherine. They gather round the fire where they happen to hear – no. They gather round the fire for the purpose of hearing Lady Catherine… what? Determine what the weather might be? But why submit to the vagaries of weather when you sit at the hand of the Most High? Austen swaps out the word we’re expecting here (might have on the morrow) with a tunefully simple “what weather they were to have on the morrow.” It all happens so quickly – that acceleration through the final seven words – we don’t immediately register the change. By the time we hear the riff -- that tiny little twist of the lyric – we’ve already sung the final note. But we do get the joke. The joke is in the echo that reverberates back to set the tone for the entire event. Lady Catherine does not “make determinations.” Lady Catherine decrees.
–Alan Sincic is the author of The Babe and Sugar