How Things Work; more about sentences

Do this. Find a sentence or a paragraph you like and then type it. You couldn’t do better than by duplicating good writing with your fingers and eyes and senses. Choose sentences and paragraphs that make you feel something, or see something you wouldn’t normally notice.

Vladimir Nabakov, short story writer and novelist, best known for LOLITA was born in St.Petersburg, Russia in 1899. He came from a moneyed family of minor nobility and they left everything behind to escape the Russian Revolution. He writes about a vanished world in his memoir, SPEAK MEMORY. It is elegant.

I found a passage that took my breath away as much for the structure as for the incident depicted. He describes that often when his family was having luncheon the butler would announce to his father that a group of villagers was there to plead his influence in some local issue. His father would join them outside the dining room windows on the lawn below and though he and his brother could not see or make out what was being said, for the windows were closed to keep out the heat, they knew by the change in tone when the conversation had been concluded. That was when, as a token of gratitude his father would be subjected to the national ordeal of being tossed into the air and securely caught by the satisfied citizens.

This is the passage that bumped my heart:

“From my place at table I would suddenly see through one of the west windows a marvelous case of levitation. There, for an instant, the figure of my father in his wind-rippled summer suit would be displayed, gloriously sprawling in midair, his limbs in a curiously casual attitude, his handsome, imperturbable features turned to the sky. Thrice, to the mighty heave-ho of his invisible tossers, he would fly up in this fashion, and the second time he would go higher than the first and then there he would be, on his last and loftiest flight, reclining, as if for good, against the cobalt blue of the summer noon, like one of those paradisiac personages who comfortably soar with such a wealth of folds in their garments, on the vaulted ceilings of a church¸ while below, one by one, the wax tapers in mortal hands light up to make a swarm of minute flames in the mist of incense, and the priest chants of eternal repose, and funeral lilies conceal the face of whoever lies there, among the swimming lights, in the open coffin.”

This just made me so happy that the first time I read it I went back and did so several more times just to see what was going on. I wanted to get it into my mouth and under my tongue. It is a complex paragraph made up of elegant and luscious words. A voluptuous example of lengthy sentences and language and memory. I’m not suggesting you analyze what catches your eye, I’m suggesting you experience it.

Here’s one more sentence that I found delicious, by Colette. This sentence is about a table of older women observed eating together:

“They laugh constantly and perhaps for no reason, with that lightheartedness that comes to a woman when the peril of men has at last left her.”

“…the peril of men…” You gotta love that. This leads nicely into the next blog: Words.