Sunday, September 21, 2008

'Style May Be Likened To An Army'

It's long and somewhat academic, but Mark Twain's putdown of James Fenimore Cooper's prose style in Last of the Mohicans is one of the funniest thing I have ever read. And so, in need of some levity, I looked it up again this morning and blew coffee through my schnoz as I reread it for the first time in forever.

An excerpt:
"The style of some authors has variety in it, but Cooper's style is remarkable for the absence of this feature. Cooper's style is always grand and stately and noble. Style may be likened to an army, the author to its general, the book to the campaign. Some authors proportion an attacking force to the strength or weakness, the importance or unimportance, of the object to be attacked; but Cooper doesn't. It doesn't make any difference to Cooper whether the object of attack is a hundred thousand men or a cow; he hurls his entire force against it. He comes thundering down with all his battalions at his back, cavalry in the van, artillery on the flanks, infantry massed in the middle, forty bands braying, a thousand banners streaming in the wind; and whether the object be an army or a cow you will see him come marching sublimely in, at the end of the engagement, bearing the more preferable fragments of the victim patiently on his shoulders, to the stopping-place. Cooper's style is grand, awful, beautiful; but it is sacred to Cooper, it is his very own, and no student of the Veterinary College of Arizona will be allowed to filch it from him."
Read the whole thing here.

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