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This chapter considers the rhythms of George Eliot’s prose; it shows that George Eliot had a fine ear for the cadences of her writing and that she controlled the fluency and blockage in the progress of her sentences to variously suggestive effects. Her rhythmical prose responds to the balance her realism strikes between immediate description and reflective narration, between dreamy ideals and difficult realities. The tension that her characters experience between a willingness to struggle on and a desire to relent is also registered in the fluency and friction of her sentences.
Style is notoriously difficult to define; there are many different literary styles and many different ways of understanding style. This chapter discusses several of these possibilities and suggests that the work of style will be best understood by close attention to the multiple technical resources that constitute any style. This kind of attention will show that style is not separate to meaning, not merely an adornment or accessory to it, for style is inseparable from expression. In particular, it is style that generates meaning and implication, over and above the apparently paraphraseable sense. Although some Victorian novelists stated that the ideal style effaced its own presence, Victorian novels are more aware of their verbal artistry, and indeed their artifice, than some critics allow or than the ideal of transparency permits. Such a self-understanding is helpfully writ large in novels that dramatize a writer’s development of their literary style, including George Meredith’s Diana of the Crossways, Charlotte Bronte’s Villette and Thomas Hardy’s The Hand of Ethelberta.
Some writers of the Victorian period, as well as more recent critics, have argued that the prose style of Victorian fiction aims to efface itself or that an absence of style may in itself represent the nineteenth-century ideal. This collection provides a major assessment of style in Victorian fiction and demonstrates that style - the language, techniques and artistry of prose - is inseparable from meaning and that it is through the many resources of style that the full compass of meaning makes itself known. Leading scholars in the field present an engaging assessment of major Victorian novelists, illustrating how productive and illuminating close attention to literary style can be. Collectively, they build a fresh and nuanced understanding of how style functioned in the literature of the nineteenth century, and propose that the fiction of this era demands we think about what style does, as much as what style is.
The chapter on sentences shows that the relations made possible by syntax between wording and timing, sequence and consequence, and experience and reflection create an unlimited range of possible effects at the level of the sentence. The chapter explores some of these effects, noting particularly the presence of competing impulses in single sentences, so that any sentence is a negotiation between rival forces and, in its fullest implication, a representation of the mixed conditions of human existence.
The introduction outlines the kind of attention to prose techniques that forms the basis for the chapters that follow. It claims that prose is all too infrequently granted this kind of attention. In part, this is because of the claims to ordinariness that prose writing often proposes for itself, where prose comes to seem either prosaic or prosy. Critical and philosophical traditions have reinforced the view that prose is at its best when it effaces itself, when it conceals its own wording. But this principle has tended to distract from the craft of prose. The introduction outlines the parts of prose (punctuation, words, sentences, and so on) and the various genres (realism, comedy, Gothic, science fiction, and creative non-fiction) that subsequent chapters take up for inspection as regards the techniques of prose themselves.