Tuesday, March 15, 2011

long live lovely long sentences

Short is sweet. Tweet is short. Contemporary communication is all about brevity, as Jenny Cool writes in her recent Savage Minds post. But what about the wondrous, locaquious, seemingly endless enjoyment of a lovely long sentence?

In celebration of the long sentence, here is one I came across in the book I am reading at the moment, The Way by Swann's by master of the long sentence, Marcel Proust, so please stay with me, there are pneumatic tubes mentioned at the end (and also for your reference, the sentence follows a brief passage concerning Monsieur Swann's tortured struggle between playing hard to get and his desperation to see the the vixen Odette).

"And yet at this point a slight irritation or physical discomfort - by inciting him to consider the present moment as an exceptional moment, outside the rules, one in which even common wisdom would agree that he could accept the appeasement afforded by a pleasure and allow his will, until it might be useful to resume the effort, to rest - would suspend the action of the latter, which would cease to exert its compression; or, less than that, the memory of something he had forgotten to ask Odette, whether she had decided which colour she wanted to have her carriage repainted, or, with regard to a certain investment, whether it was ordinary or preferred shares that she wanted to buy (it was all very well to show her that he could live without seeing her, but if, after that, the painting had to be done all over again or the shares paid no dividends, a lot of good it would have done him), and like a stretched rubber band that is let go or the air in a pneumatic machine that is opened, the idea of seeing her again would spring back from the far distance where it had been kept into the field of the present as an immediate possibility" (p 309, Penguin edition translated by Lydia Davis).


  1. if i recall somewhat correctly there are some beautiful long sentences in edith grossman's translation of don quixote - perhaps around 3-4 line mark rather than the length of the one above - and then there is a book by bohumil hrabal (dancing lessons for the advanced in age) which is one unfinished sentence

  2. Thanks Andy! I would love to read those sentences. Don Quixote is waiting, to be read one day in the near future... José Saramago also has the comma-ed sentence down pat too!