And today is the last installment of this series about my inner wrestlings with the fallen angel, Description. Ah, Description, with her fair tresses flashing from blonde to auburn to black, from curls to waves to straight as the curtain of a windless night, her tender sword flashing forth to cut through to the heart, or cut one’s suspenders off so one is left wandering around with one’s pants around one’s ankles . . . .
Description sure has changed a lot over the centuries. I think it’s safe to say that the sparse, clean description of the early 20th century was a reaction to the purple prose of such 19th century luminaries as Edward Bulwer-Lytton (you know, the guy who the worst first sentence contest was named after? He was a best-selling author in his time, and to tell the truth, wasn’t THAT awful if you take him holistically). And of course, there were many women writing pulp novels in the vein of Mrs. Georgie Sheldon (her biography on Wikipedia).
I’ve read two books by Georgie Sheldon this month, and they are good reads. I love some of the overtop plot devices (a house in the 1890s wired for a police alarm; the mysterious and rich old man who was Grandmother’s true love; the young man who saved her life then disappeared from it, only to magically reappear for the sequel). And I can feel a little superior about some of the worldviews that leak through – thank goodness I’m not *that* racist, thank goodness *I* don’t faint after a crisis (and you must give this to Georgie’s characters: they can handle a crisis just fine. They don’t faint until later!).
But the description is just the sort of thing we are warned about in writing classes and “how-to-write-a-novel” books. Too much, too often, too perfect and somewhat lazy. The heroine is most often a blonde, to underscore her angelic nature. The brunette is a villain. The countrywoman or other servant has a simple, good heart, and a very simple brain to match.
Hemingway and other writers responded with a clean, brisk prose, and other genres often followed.
However . . . Hemingway died in 1961. (His biography on the Nobel Prize website.) And trends move onward. What exactly does 21st century prose look like? I guess it’s up for us to decide.
And with that, I’m going to start writing in earnest. Wish me luck – although, the first drafts are always fun.
(Text of above image: . . . covered with a crimson hood, so that not much could be seen of her, save the fair, pale face, with its sad, appealing blue eyes, which looked out from beneath masses of shining golden ringlets that had strayed from her hood and lay upon her white forehead. She had a sensitive mouth, a pretty, rounded chin, a small, straight nose, and altogether, had she possessed something of color and less of sadness in her face, would have been considered wondrously fair to look upon.
(This little waif, with her childlike countenance, her pathetic eyes, and her patient, uncomplaining spirit, was traveling alone.) (Stella Rosevelt by Mrs. Georgie Sheldon. Full text on HathiTrust.