Thursday, January 29, 2009

Great Writing

'I've got one more record. - Have you heard "So Long Letty"? I suppose you have. '
'Honestly, you don't understand - I haven't heard a thing.'
Nor known nor smelt, nor tasted, he might have added; only hot-cheeked girls in hot secret rooms. The young maidens he had known at New Haven in 1914 kissed men saying 'There!' hands at the man's chest to push him away. Now there was this scarcely saved waif of disaster bringing him the essence of a continent...

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This is the standard by which great writing ought to be judged.


At 29 January 2009 at 15:53 , Blogger Dude said...


At 29 January 2009 at 17:49 , Blogger IPCHUK said...

Oh it may well be - it's still beautiful though.

At 29 January 2009 at 22:49 , Blogger Dude said...

It's nicely written, but far from a standard of great writing. A standard for great writing, in American literature, is Melville. Scott Fitzgerald is rather prosaic, not enough poetry in his veins.

At 30 January 2009 at 02:05 , Blogger IPCHUK said...

Haven't read anything by Melville, but I'll see that I do at some point eventually.
I like that little passage. I don't know if you've read the whole novel - I think it's wonderful.
The extract itself captures that poignant feeling conjured up by a person who is acutely aware of the lack of fulfillment in his life thus far. It's concise and straightfoward - the hallmark of honesty. You know that the author experienced it himself, and precisely because of this, its sheer first-hand simplicity makes it almost lyrical in the face of the plain, even naive sadness that's expressed. This aspect of it I think makes it very useful for a young person to understand this precise state of mind that is being conveyed to the reader here.
All the wonderful poetics of other writers, their intricate allusions, metaphors and complex prose, yes it's all brilliant but those are merely technicalities, appreciated only by more avid readers. In the nascent mind of the average young person, this simple, straighforward writing which bodes perfectly with the tone that is relayed and its overall poignancy is what counts. It simply places you in the character's shoes, and you're able to walk in them for a while - its immediate impact is essential for the maturation process of any young person in my view. That's why I think it is easily a very good example of great writing.

I'm always struck by the sheer zest for life in some of those post-WW1 novels, despite their overall nihilism. War has seemingly left those young people cold, empty and disillusioned but in spite of all their sacrifices, they have at least been taught to treasure those moments of simple pleasure, and the experience has somewhat sharpened their sensibilities. That of course doesn't apply to all of them, but it's so beautifully depicted in novels like Remarque's 'Three Comrades' for instance.

The extract which I posted here does the same job equally well.

At 30 January 2009 at 03:09 , Blogger Dude said...

All the wonderful poetics of other writers, their intricate allusions, metaphors and complex prose, yes it's all brilliant but those are merely technicalities, appreciated only by more avid readers.

Not quite. Great writing doesn't rest on "mere technicalities", nor does it rest on the juvenile simplicity you extol beyond its feeble proportions.

"To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme."

That is Melville. Great writing.

But well, to each his own, and all that relative nonsense. Don't be offended. You made a bold statement, you should expect bold reservations.

At 30 January 2009 at 13:37 , Blogger IPCHUK said...

Fair enough. Of course it's all relative.
Yet, calling this style of writing 'juvenile simplicity' is like calling Hemingway's writing 'journalistic' - it's not entirely incorrect but it misses the point by a long way.

There is nothing like the sort of writing that can immmediately impress you, instantly striking a chord within you that resonates within the realm of your sensibilities. This applies to writing as well as painting, film etc.

The passage I quoted speaks to you in a melancholic, even desperate tone - its aesthetic value is there, straightforward, simple and honest, leaving a emotionally potent imprint upon your consciousness. Indeed it's indispensible to any reader who wants to feel what that character in question feels.

Great writing also speaks to you.

But you're right: bold statements do indeed prompt bold reservations, and that is the only way that their boldness can be appreciated, so I thank you for your comments.

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