This Week In My Classes: A Rogues’ Gallery of Style

howe-close-readingOver the past few weeks in Close Reading we have been working on disentangling specific elements of poetry and fiction in order to improve the precision of our analysis. We’ve focused, for instance, on tone and diction, on figurative language, on imagery, on symbolism, on rhythm, on point of view, on narrative voice, on characterization, and on setting. Often separating these elements is quite an artificial exercise, but there’s value in it nonetheless, as it helps us moves from impressionistic responses to focused observations that can be the foundation of critical conversation and analysis.

Now we’re working on putting these elements back together again. Today we talked about “style,” which, as our textbook explains, encompasses all of a writer’s choices about both what to say and how to say it, and next we’ll be working on theme – which of course has been central to all of our attempts to read the significance of details all along.

“It is difficult to pinpoint the effects that make up an author’s style,” says the author of Close Reading. I agree, but that’s what makes it fun, so in that spirit, much of today’s class was spent trying to pinpoint the effects that make these authors’ styles so distinct and so interesting. In some cases, it’s the overabundance of rhetorical effects that’s most obvious and inviting; in other cases, the seeming absence of style is itself pretty stylish. Another factor is whether a particular style appeals to your taste — I think that just becoming more self-conscious about authors’ varying styles can not only help us identify what factors constitute our own taste but also lead us to a greater appreciation of authors whose writing we don’t particularly enjoy at first. Do you have any favorites among these? How would you pinpoint what constitutes their particular styles? Are there stylistic features you love that I’ve missed in my sampler? Who do you suggest I should consider including next time around, and why?

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3 Responses to This Week In My Classes: A Rogues’ Gallery of Style

  1. Bill from PA says:

    Will you be providing a key to the excerpts giving authors and works? I recognize the ones I’ve read, Hammett, Joyce, Woolf, Dickens, Austen, but the others are so distinctive that I think I would recognize them if I had read them.

    Is the one with the three girls Salinger? The voice reminded me of Holden Caulfield; Catcher is the only book I’ve read by him.

    That unexpected mention of the Megalosaurus always makes me think of the Crystal Palace Dinosaurs. When reading novels from previous centuries, I often find it difficult to come to terms with the extent of the scientific knowledge or misinformation the author might have.

    Do you ever use parodies when discussing style? Though I can often spot the signs of a mock style, I usually miss the specific target of parody unless it is made obvious. This happened with a Peter DeVries novel I read a few years ago, The Tents of Wickedness, that I think contained a lot of stylistic parody. I wonder if, over time, parodies age and their resemblance to the original becomes less obvious. This happens with many forged paintings, like the Van Meegeren Vermeers, that fooled experts at the time they were created but look nothing like the works of the Dutch master to modern eyes.

    • Rohan Maitzen says:

      Good point – I identified them aloud in class but have now added the sources to the slides.

      I haven’t used parodies, but that would be fun and could generate some good discussions about the difference between style and mannerisms.

  2. Natalie says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. Rushdie’s tribute to Dung reminds me of the 18th century poets and I think he is, at least in part, imitating them for parodic effect.

    The first sentence of pride and prejudice has been unwrapped so many times but I still think it is filled with the genius of introducing readers to “free indirect discourse”–or whatever the academics call it. It seems to be the wishful thinking of Mrs. Bennet using tones more certain and more oracular than her own might be.

    I love the way that Dickens uses fragments and each one gets a bit longer than the previous one. “Implacable” weather is a perfect adjective. Quelle mot juste!

    I like the way Updike uses contemporary slang in A & P.

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