By Madhurima Duttagupta
Even as I continue to defend myself as an utterly straightforward person, barring the simplest complexities necessary for any reasonably reflective woman brought up in today’s quasi-modern atmosphere, I do acknowledge my unfaltering admiration for the seemingly unending sentences in literature and in one’s own writing. It is but just another style, equally honest and unadulterated as any other piece of art, requiring a skill completely linked to one’s love for vivid descriptions and spirit of wonderment while toying with words and testing their potency, each time defying the rules that govern the parts and figures of speech. Of course, this is all done while bearing in mind the insane amount of caution, craft and control one needs to exercise over the language.
A few months ago I received a message from a childhood friend who had just read one of my writings, and who happens to be a wonderful writer himself. The message read –
“I really liked the long sentences, like pulling on a pizza slice and watching the mozzarella strands stretch out, wondering how far you can get from the box while being impatient about biting into your very own piece of the pie.”
Allegedly among the very few in my generation anywhere across the globe, I am proudly guilty of this somewhat sadistic trait of indulging in complex long sentences as a writer, and I am (wishfully) tempted to use the more popular Charles Dickens’ style of writing as a reference point to rest my case on. A signature-style Dickens’ opener that typically consists of around 150 words is invariably made of a single sentence! And mind you, there are several reasons in that sole paragraph that could send you looking for a dictionary; something seldom referred to these days.
Speaking of complex and lengthy sentences, my mind zealously scrolls through a list of prolific writers like Virginia Woolf, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Sylvia Plath, and many others, who mastered the art of weaving intricately detailed and severely honest observations and ideologies into uninhibited sentences that often defy and even challenge the common sensibilities of its reader. The latter though, like an enthusiastic tourist exploring the maze-like streets of Venice, treads with as much excitement as caution as he savours the joys of getting lost even as he enjoys the alluring challenges of unraveling the unknown.
Even as a young girl, it gave me immense pleasure to understand and appreciate the humour or pathos that those adjectives and adverbs so effortlessly conveyed along with the meaning and mood as they loyally guarded and adorned every noun and verb and lent more life into every character and scene. And as I delved deeper and deeper into the layers of meanings that those seemingly unending sentences carried, I learned how much they reflected my own competence, ineptitude, experiences, and perceptions.
I have, on several occasions, tried to track the reason that might have drawn me towards complex sentences or even concepts and ideologies like those found in Virginia Woolf’s writings or Bertrand Russell’s essays. Was it the writers I followed? Unfortunately, this logic would barely throw any light on my research since I was equally drawn towards the works of writers like Satyajit Ray, Anita Desai, Roald Dahl, Sukumar Ray, Ruskin Bond, Enid Blyton, Ernest Hemingway, among an endless list of prolific writers whose works rested upon the element of soothing simplicity.
George Orwell, another word-wizard, could skillfully and almost magically craft an essay on a seemingly mundane topic like ‘how to make a perfect cup of tea’ using the simplest sentences and yet it remains so profoundly memorable and deeply engrained in my heart. In his essays, Orwell makes his writing style the sole protagonist, which the plot follows like a dutiful and obedient student.
Style of writing is the dark horse that on several occasions has the power to rise much above the realms of a storyline. One could distinguish between Charles Dickens’ and Oscar Wilde’s writing, relying entirely on their signature styles. Thankfully their intent soared much above petty ambitions and so we were gifted with several unique styles of writing!
An endless list of writers comes to mind who have been known for their word-crafting, even as I struggle to conclude my limited understanding of this subject of ‘simple vs. complex sentences’ where the latter is quietly headed towards extinction (or perhaps execution?).
I am also told that today’s readers suffer from a declining attention span and a plummeting patience level when it comes to reading, though scientific researches proudly announce the rising IQ of every successive generation – so where is the degeneration happening? Or as the locals in Singapore put it ‘so how’? I remain uncertain, however, if of all this is completely true and if so, would catering to those readers be the primary objective of any writer? Who are our readers? When did literature become so time-bound? And if that were true, then why haven’t the works of Dickens or Woolf become obsolete yet? Or perhaps the right question here would be: should literature be governed by such relatively trivial requirements?
My vote, even if it shouldn’t or wouldn’t count, would still be cast for the supposition that literature or any art form should not be burdened with the need to either cater to or reform its readers or audience. And in case that should happen, it should be based on the writers’ discretion (a whole new point of discussion, I am afraid, though not completely unrelated to my ramblings). For me, writing is expressing and discovering one’s own signature style just like painting and dancing. Literature thrives for Literature’s sake.
Thankfully life has wantonly led me to the unapologetic guardians of the world of uninhibited sentences and intricate writing styles, and so I have quite willingly submitted myself to playing the quintessential admirer and loyal crusader of complex sentences. I am perfectly aware of the fact that we dwell in a world where our physical forms can be trimmed and restructured to suit popular demand, and so to hope that a sentence would escape a similar predicament would perhaps seem rather naïve. Having said that, I do not feel the slightest hint of trepidation in announcing that both simple and complex sentence structures could equally represent the beauty and joy of the ever-expanding dimensions of expressing one’s self in words by experimentation, if only we could retain our ability to defend and develop what comes most organically to us as writers.
Madhurima Duttagupta started her career as a journalist with The Times of India. She has, to her credit, over a hundred published works across several reputed national dailies like The Hindu, Deccan Herald and The Times of India. After moving to Singapore in 2007 she has held senior editorial positions for leading lifestyle magazines. Madhurima, who is also an active blogger (http://madhurimaduttagupta.wordpress.com), has recently authored a book titled ‘Goddess & Whore’.