I was living on the top floor of a ludicrously grim hotel on the rue du Bac, one of those enormous dark, cold, and hideous establishments in which Paris abounds that seem to breathe forth, in their airless, humid, stone-cold halls, the weak light, scurrying chambermaids, and creaking stairs, an odor of gentility long long dead.
—James Baldwin, from “Equal in Paris”


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
A master of rhetorical structures, James Baldwin inflects this cumulative sentence with wry, grim, haughty humor. Baldwin loves a good oxymoron – and if “ludicrously grim” isn’t technically one – it’s full of the kind of productive tension that gets repeated in “airless, humid, stone-cold,” as well as in the implied meaning of the sentence: the City of Light has lost its luster. His high tone begins with his mention of his living on “the rue du Bac,” continues with the personified “hideous establishment” that breathes the synesthetic “odor of gentility.” Gentility, we think, doesn’t have an odor; but then again – we picture those scurrying chambermaids – maybe it does.
—Stephanie Grant’s essay “Postpartum” will be published on the New Yorker website on Dec 21.