Changing Rules

Over the last couple of years, I have occasionally been chided by critique partners for writing sentences that were too long. The limit, I’ve been told, is two lines. If I write a sentence that is over two lines long, I should split it into two. Sometimes I kind of balk at this, because there are occasions when a three-line sentence is really much more elegant than two or three shorter sentences.

So I had to laugh the other night when I read the following sentence. It was written by Captain Frederick Marryat in 1937 and quoted by Mark Twain in Life on the Mississippi:

“Pouring its impetuous waters through wild tracts covered with trees of little value except for firewood, it sweeps down whole forests in its course, which disappear in tumultuous confusion, whirled away by the stream now loaded with the masses of soil which nourished their roots, often blocking up and changing for a time the channel of the river, which, as if in anger at its being opposed, inundates and devastates the whole country round; and as soon as it forces its way through its former channel, plants in every direction the uprooted monarchs of the forest (upon whose branches the bird will never again perch, or the raccoon, the opossum, or the squirrel climb) as traps to the adventurous navigators of its waters by steam, who, borne down by these concealed dangers which pierce through the planks, very often have not time to steer for and gain the shore before they sink to the bottom.”

Eleven lines long! Those Victorians were so verbose. And let’s be real: Marryat was a rank amateur compared to Victor Hugo.

 

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