In at least two occasions from The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas was Gertrude Stein challenged for her unique writing style. T.S. Eliot called a revision to her “grammatical solecisms” and discussed why Gertrude Stein used them. The conversation was said to be a solemn one and it was all about “wool is wool and silk is silk or wool is woollen and silk is silken.” Earlier someone had been fascinated with what he had read in manuscript of The Making of Americans. But he pleaded for commas! Gertrude said commas were unnecessary, the sense should be intrinsic and not have to be explained by commas and otherwise commas were only a sign that “one should pause and take breath but one should know of oneself when one wanted to pause and take breath.” Even this sentence itself, like many others in her writing, are a bit too long.
Which reminds me of Jose Saramago, Nobel-laureate Portuguese writer, playwright and journalist. His works, some of which can be seen as allegories, commonly present subversive perspectives on historic events, emphasizing the human factor rather than the officially sanctioned story. Saramago’s experimental style often features (very) long sentences, at times more than a page long as in Blindness. He uses periods sparingly, choosing instead a loose flow of clauses joined by commas. Many of his paragraphs match the length of entire chapters by more traditional writers. He completely does away quotation marks to delimit dialogues—all the dialogues are embedded in the prose—when the speaker changes Saramago capitalizes the first letter of the new speaker’s clause.
I don’t consider the lack of commas and embedded dialogues “grammatical solecisms” as T.S. Eliot had staidly designated, so long as the writing is clear and the thought conveyed. What about you? What kind of writing style might discourage you from reading a book?
Filed under: Books, Literary Criticism, Literature, Reading Tagged: | Alice B. Toklas, Autobiography, Blindness, Books, Gertrude Stein, Jose Saramago, Literature, Reading, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas