Friday, December 17, 2010

Types of Prose

(i) Straightforward or Utilitarian Writing : The success with which a writer composes everyday prose depends on the skill, patience and experience with which he handles the language. This sort of prose has been called straightward and everyday. It is utilitarian prose. We do not look to it for style ; if it has style, it consists in the absence of literary devices ; the personality of the writer is best expressed when it does not obtrude itself.

(ii) Rhetorical Prose : In its most general meaning, the principles governing the use of language for effective speaking and writing. To the Classical theoreticians, the study of rhetoric was essential for effective oratory. To this end, such writers as Aristotle. Quintilian, and Longinus codified the theories of rhetoric, which, along with logic and grammar, became, during the Middle Ages, one of the basic studies of the trivium. The following passage illustrates the rhetorical style. The author gives hard-hitting argument, intended not so much to persuade by sweet reasonableness as to hammer home a point. It is rhetorical tub-thumping : its keynote is a manly scorn. The language is strong and vigorous ; there are very few adjectives—’ only one or two are used descriptively (e.g. ‘a base disposition’), the others for the most part being used predicatively (e.g. ‘the man that is poor and contented’).
I lay it down as a maxim, that for a family to be happy, they must be well supplied with food and raiment. It is a sorry effort that people make to persuade others or to persuade them-selves, that they can be happy in a state of want of the neces­saries of life. The doctrines which fanaticism preaches, and which teach men to be content with poverty, have a very perni­cious tendency, and are calculated to favour tyrants by giving them passive slaves. To live well, to enjoy all things that make life pleasant, is the right of every man who constantly uses his strength judiciously and lawfully. It is to blaspheme God to suppose that he created men to be miserable, to hunger, thirst, and perish with cold, in the midst of that abundance which is the fruit of their own labour. Instead, therefore, of applaud­ing ‘happy poverty’, which applause is so much the fashion of the present day, despise the man that is poor and contented ; for such is a certain proof of a base disposition, a disposition which is the enemy of all industry, all exertion, all love of independence.
(William Cobbett)
(iii) Plain Narrative : Here we have given the example of style of Mungo Park which is the standard prose of the late eighteenth century. This style is free from literary pretentions. Clarity and exactness were its aim, to be achieved while observing literary propriety : this meant using the lauguage and sentence-constructions which Dr. Johnson would have used. To us the sentences seem long and complex, the language in places stilled and latinized. In spite of all this, however. Park’s style was direct, and what is sometimes called ‘masculine’ free from affectation and obscurity. His story proceeds naturally and easily, without digressions and without excessive barrenness. He is never pompous and never dull. He never betrays an attitude of superiority or condescension towards the natives. If he is sometimes pious, his piety, is sincere. He writes frankly, but without exaggeration. He is modest hut without false modesty. He frequently refers to his own feelings. “To my great mortification.” I was weary and objected”, “the circumstance was affecting in the highest degree”, “oppressed by such unexpected kindness”— in such expressions he refers to his feelings leaving the reader to imagine the details.
(iv) Prose Saturated with Realism : Stephen Crane’s realistic prose is quoted below :––
The youth stared at the land in front of him. Its foliage now seemed to veil powers and horrors. Re was unware of the machinery of orders that started the charge, although from the corners of his eyes he saw in officer, who looked like a boy a-horse-back, come galloping, waving his hat. Suddenly he felt a straining and leaving among the men. The line fell slowly forward like a toppling wall, and, with a convulsive gasp that was intended for a cheer, the regiment began its journey.
The youth was pushed and jostled for a moment before he understood movement at all, but directly he lunged ahead-and began to run.
He fixed his eye upon a distant prominent clump of where he had concluded the enemy were to be met, and he toward a goal. He had-believed throughout that it was a mere question of getting over an unpleasant matter as quickly as possible, and he ran desperately, as if pursued for a murder. His face was drawn hard and tight with the stress of his endeavour. His eyes were fixed in a lurid glare. And with his soiled and disordered dress, his red and inflamed features surmounted by the dingy rag with its spot of blood, his wildly-swinging rifle and banging accountrements, he looked to be an insane soldier.
As the regiment swung from its position out into a cleared space, the woods and thickets before it awakened. Yellow flames leaped toward it from many directions. The forest made a tremendous objection.
The line lurched straight for a moment. Then the right wing swung forward : it in turn was surpassed by the left. Afterward the centre careered to the front until the regiment was a wedge-shaped mass, but an instant later the opposition of the bushes, trees and uneven places on the ground split the command and scanned it into detached clusters.
The youth, light-footed, was unconsciously in advance. His eyes still kept note of the clump of trees. From all places near it the clannish yell of the enemy could be heard. The little flames of rifles leaped from it. The song of the bullets was in the air, and shells snarled among the tree-tops. One tumbled directly into the middle of a hurrying group and exploded in crimson fury. There was an instants spectacle of a man, almost over it, throwing up his hands to shield his eyes.
Crane’s style is calm and objective. Yet the horror and destruction of war are all the more clearly expressed because of this dispassionate style of writing. The writer is not himself cold or detached ; he writes rather as if he were holding back his feelings and letting events make their own impression. Crane achieves his purpose by a skilful mixture of the concrete and the abstract. Consider on the one hand the vivid snapshots contained in the references to the officer waving his hat, the distant clump of trees, the eyes of the youth ‘fixed in a lurid glare’, his dingy tandem with its spot of blood, the yellow flames, the man shielding his eye: from the exploding shell ; and, on the other hand, consider the more abstract suggestion in ‘Its foliages now seemed to veil powers and horrors’ and ‘He had believed throughout that it was a mere questions of getting over an unpleasant matter as quickly as possible.’ Consider also in its context the statement, ‘The forest made a tremendous objection’. In terms of physical fact this means that the advancing men met with heavy gunfire from enemy positions in the forest. Expressed in the more abstract way, however, it implies that the forest itself resisted their advance in a terrifying way : it reinforces the previous observation, ‘Its foliages now seemed to veil powers and horrors’.
(James Reeves)
(v) Subjective and Personal Style : Here is the quotation from D. H. Lawrence’s prose :––
The car ploughed uphill through the long squalid straggle of Tevershall, the blackened brick dwellings, black slate roofs glistening their sharp edges, the mud black with coal-dust, the pavements wet and black. It was as if dismalness had soaked through and through everything. The utter negation of the gladness of life, the utter absence of the instinct for shapely beauty which every bird and beast has, the titter death of the human intuitive faculty, was appealing. The stacks of soap in the grocers’ shops, the rhubarb and lemons in the greengrocers ! the awful hats in the milliners ! all went by ugly, ugly, followed by the plaster and gilt horror of the cinema with its wet picture announcements, A Woman’s Love, and the new big Primitive chapel, primitive enough in its stark brick and big panes of greenish and raspberry glass in the windows. The Wesleyan chapel, higher up, was of blackened brick and stood behind iron railings and blackened shrubs. The Congregational chapel, which thought itself superior, was built of rusticated sand-stone and had a steeple, not a very high one. Just beyond were the new school buildings, expensive pink brick, and gravelled playground inside iron railings, all very imposing, and mixing the suggestion of a chapel and a prison.
This is a description of a mining village in the Midlands, of the kind which sprang up in the nineteenth century when the coal-fields were being exploited without regard for design or beauty. Lawrence is here concerned to give a picture of soul-destroying squalor and ugliness. He chooses a rainy-day, which adds to the effect of depression, but such days are common in the Midlands. He makes no attempt to be detached and objective, but stamps upon every sentence his own loathing and disgust. The objects in the description and the words used to project them on to the reader’s eyes are deliberately selected to heighten this impression. There is nothing for which he can find a good word. Not only does he describe the physical horror of Tevershall, he comments also on the social snobbery which exists between rival chapel congregations and the cultural philistinism which builds a new school in the likeness of a combined chapel and prison.
(James Reeves)
(vi) Psychological Narrative : The passage is quoted from Virginia Woolf’s novel To the Lighthouse. The author is concerned with creating the right atmosphere and laying fundations of the characters. In this kind of writing, psychological speculation and the minute analysis of the characters’ states of mind are more important than narrative. In the second paragraph there is only one short sentence, in marked contrast to the immensely lengthy sentence which follows it. This final sentence of the second paragraph, although consisting of 105 words, contains only four clauses ; these are amplified by the inclusion of the list beginning with ‘The ‘wheel-barrow’, the appositional pharse his secret language’, descriptive phrases such as ‘with his high forehead’, etc., participial expression, like ‘frowning slightly’, etc., and ‘watching him guide his scissors’, etc., and the alternative ‘or directing a stern and momentous enterprise’, etc. The style, therefore, tends to be a rambling series of phrases 2nd expressions loosely strung together, with a minimum of finite verbs. It is especially adopted fog rendering the loosely connected, unhurrying impressions and sensations which flow through the mind. The passage discussed here is quoted below:––
‘Yes, of course, if its fine to-morrow’, said Mrs. Ramsay. ‘But you’ll have to be up with the lark’, she added.
To her son these words conveyed and extraordinary joy, as if it were settled the expedition were bound to take place, and the wonder to which he had looked forward for years and years it seemed, was, after a night’s darkness and a day’s sail, within touch. Since he belonged even at the age of six, to that great clan which cannot keep this feeling separate from that, but must let feature prospects, with their joys and sorrows, cloud what is actually at hand, since to such people even in earliest childhood any turn in the wheel of sensation has the power to crystallise and transfix the moment upon which its gloom or radiance rests, James Ramsay, sitting on the floor cutting out pictures from the illustrated catalogues of the Army and Navy Stores, enowed the picture of a refrigerator as his mother spoke with heavenly bliss. It was fringed with joy. The wheelbarrow, the lawnmower, the sound of poplar trees, leaves whitening before rain, rooks cawing, brooms knocking, dresses rustling—all these were so coloured and distinguished in his mind that he had already his private code, his secret language, though he appeared the image of stark and uncompromising severity, with his high forehead and his fierce blue eyes, impeccably candid and pure, frowning slightly at the sight of human frailty, so that his mother, watching him guide his scissors neatly round the refrigerator, imagined him all red and ermine on the Bench or directing a stern and momentous enterprise in some crisis of public affairs.
‘But’, said his father, stopping in front of the drawing-room window, ‘it won’t be fine’.
Had there been an axe handy, a poker, or any weapon that would have gashed a hole in his father’s breast and killed him, there and then, James would have seized it. Such were the extremes of emotion that Mr. Ramsay excited in his children’s breasts by his mere presence ; standing, as now, lean as a knife, narrow as the blade of one, grinning sarcastically, not only with the pleasure of disillusioning his son and casting ridicule upon his wife, who was ten thousand times better in every way than he was (James thought), but also with some secret conceit at his own accuracy of judgment. What he said was true. It was always true. He was incapable of untruth ; never tempered with a fact : never altered a disagreeable word to suit the pleasure or convenience of any mortal being, least, of all of his own children, who, sprung from his loins, should be aware from childhood that life is difficult ; facts uncompromising ; and the passage to that fabled land where our brightest hopes are extinguished, our frail barks founder in darkness (here Mr. Ramsay would straighten his back and narrow his little blue eyes upon the horizon), one that needs, above all, courage, truth, and the power to endure.

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