Friday, September 01, 2006

Fragment 190

The three greatest prose stylists in English are: Henry James, George Eliot and Virginia Wolfe. The runners up are Jane Austen, James Joyce and Charles Dickens.
(Jane Austen’ s prose is clear concise and crisp. Not cold, but clear concise and crisp. Henry James can wring your heart. George Eliot can stop you dead in your tracks. Virginia Woolf turns the language in on itself. Modernism’s project of linguistic self reflection. James Joyce is fireworks: he can do everything, even if only sometimes he avoids pastiche. Dickens is always on the edge: he lives in extremes: everything is superlative.)

3 comments:

Eric said...

I am ever so pleased to see Woolf on this list, but question your characterisation of her language. James, to me, turns language in on itself - almost literally - sentences twisting inward into knots of implication, assumption, reflection, innuendo - etraordinary obliquity. Woolf, on the other hand, turns language outwards to the reality, connecting it in a million places with the vast range of potentialites known as the world.

Murr said...

Indeed, who is Murr to argue with the great authority on Woolf. I think I meant that both Joyce and Woolf foreground language. James uses the language to represent the hesitancies of thought. That the language increases in difficulty and obliquity is a by- product. Woolf and Joyce sought to make language an object separate from what it was describing. Would you agree?

Di said...

Now 10 years later, do you still think so?