Most people who review my work say I need to write sentences that are shorter and less complex. Really good writing, “they” say, presents sentences that are direct and clear. Certainly vary the length, but avoid those quarter page meandering structures filled with asides, allusions and multiple modifiers.
But there are those writers who write long and wonderful sentences that can only be described as luxurious and a joy to read. I once diagrammed a Salman Rushdie half page long sentence just to see if I remembered how to do that kind of grammatical exercise. It was such a beautiful sentence, well-constructed and effectively communicated.
And then there is Henry James. The beauty of his descriptions of both the setting and the inner workings of the human soul is like listening to a symphony orchestra. I understand if you prefer the clarity of a violin’s single note and its amazing gracefulness, but give me the multiple chords and contributions of many instruments weaving in and out of harmony and solo.
Here’s an example of a sentence from The Portrait of a Lady, describing the essence of a gentleman:
If he had English blood in his veins it had probably received some French or Italian commixture; but he suggested, fine gold coin as he was, no stamp or emblem of the common mintage that provides for general circulation; he was the elegant complicated medal struck off for a special occasion.
Reviewers and editors, put away your pens and autocorrect programs! Accept my snobbery that if you are compelled to re-punctuate, cut, and substitute, you are just not willing to do the work of the respectful reader. Please just enjoy the music of words.
I read. I write. I learn. I’m in a writing group and I have four published books. I’m still pretty sure I’m not Steinbeck, but my heart and soul have found their way back to where they should be.