"There are only two ways of telling the complete truth—anonymously and posthumously."Thomas Sowell

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Beautiful English Prose and the Reigning Literary Zeitgeist (and some self-promotion)

Patrick Devlin, a British jurist who died in 1992, remains one of my favourite authors. He had a taste for plain speaking and plain writing. Here is a sampler:

“[Chief Justice Hewart] has been called the worst chief justice since Scroggs and Jeffreys in the seventeenth century. I do not think that is quite fair. When one considers the enormous improvement in judicial standards between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries, I should say that, comparatively speaking, he was the worst chief justice ever.”Patrick Devlin, Easing the Passing: The trial of Dr John Bodkin Adams 92 (rev. ed. 1986).

Do you see how the passage works. After Devlin indicates that the standard view of the Chief Justice is not “quite fair,” the reader naturally expects some words of kindness or in defence of Hewart. But no. Devlin sticks the sword in deeper, and then twists it for good measure. It is reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado (1846).

I make some stylistic efforts along these lines in one of my own publications:

But if you prefer pathos over bathos ...

Seth Barrett Tillman, Purim & My Bangladeshi Friend, Gadfly: Culture that Matters (Feb. 11, 2013).

I was very glad to find venues for both of these pieces (along with a few favourable online reviews and links--thank you Instapundit!). Except within science fiction and fantasy circles, there are surprisingly few fora to publish parody and fiction which do not fit the current reigning literary zeitgeist, i.e., focusing on authenticity, identity, and politics rooted in race, class, and gender.

Seth Barrett Tillman
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SethBTillman  ( @SethBTillman )

PS: My prior post is: Seth Barrett Tillman, American Culture: The Flies of a Summer (Part I), The New Reform Club (Sept. 29, 2015, 6:33 PM), http://reformclub.blogspot.ie/2015/09/american-culture-flies-of-summer.html

PPS: Devlin's book is quite good, although it has a period flavour. It is primarily about the trial of a doctor for allegedly murdering one of his elderly patients. Motive: The doctor was in the patient's will! Devlin presided at the trial. Years later, after the prosecutor and defendant had both died, Devlin published his book. Such a book--by a presiding judge--was considered quite controversial. Devlin responded to his critics in a lengthy postscript, which came out in the revised edition. The postscript alone is worth the cost of the book. 


Tim Kowal said...

Unexpected wordplay is the great compost of language, shaking the reader out of the slumber of overused expressions and reclaiming the words and composition for an awakened mind.

A favorite of mine is Abraham Lincoln's famous insult: "He can compress the most words into the smallest idea of any one I know." I only recently learned its similarly to Gibbons' barb that--having deferred to economy, such that "if whole years should pass without producing anything worthy his notice we shall not be afraid of a chasm in our history but shall hasten on to matters of consequence and leave such periods of time totally unobserved" (and so “later Turkish dynasties may sleep in oblivion since they have no relation to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire”)--about the tedious negotiations that succeeded the synod of Ephesus, “The most patient reader will thank me for compressing so much nonsense and falsehood in a few lines.”

P.S. I enjoyed Purim & My Bangladeshi Friend very much.

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