21 Oct 2011

On very long sentences

I want to take you on a rabbit trail through my head. Then this post will make sense. Vaguely.

Ready? Right.

It begins here at Dewey's Treehouse, where Mama Squirrel tells us to go here to read a post on Plutarch written by Cindy of the Dominion Family/Ordo Amoris, on the classical Circe Institute blog.

She tells us to read the comments while we're there, so I do. I am very compliant. In the comments Mama Squirrel tells us to toddle off here to read about how even Frankenstein's monster read Plutarch. (Whodathunkit?)

Are you keeping up?

Once here, Mama Squirrel points out that if he learns nothing else from Plutarch, the monster at least learns to write very long sentences. Certainly, he will have learned to read them, because Plutarch is characterised by his closely packed, extremely long sentences.

Apparently the post was written in response to this one, "Celebrating the Long Sentence: Winnie-the-Pooh and the Slow Language Movement" at The Wine-Dark Sea. So off I go. Click.

Here Melanie tells us that one of her very favourite long sentences of all time is this one. It's from Chapter IX of Winnie the Pooh, "In Which Piglet Is Entirely Surrounded by Water":
In after-years he liked to think that he had been in Very Great Danger during the Terrible Flood, but the only danger he had really been in was in the last half-hour of his imprisonment, when Owl, who had just flown up, sat on a branch of his tree to comfort him, and told him a very long story about an aunt who had once laid a seagull's egg by mistake, and the story went on and on, rather like this sentence, until Piglet who was listening out of his window without much hope, went to sleep quietly and naturally, slipping slowly out of the window towards the water until he was only hanging on by his toes, at which moment luckily, a sudden loud squawk from Owl, which was really part of the story, being what his aunt said, woke the Piglet up and just gave him time to jerk himself back into safety and say, "How interesting, and did she?" when-- well, you can imagine his joy when at last he saw the good ship, The Brain of Pooh (Captain, C. Robin; Ist Mate, P. Bear) coming over the sea to rescue him.
This is certainly a very long sentence. It is not, however my favourite very long sentence.

All of this introduction is because I now want to share with you my very favouritest very long sentence.

Are you ready? Okay, here goes:
Then the brutal minions of the law fell upon the hapless Toad; loaded him with chains, and dragged him from the Court House, shrieking, praying, protesting; across the market-place, where the playful populace, always as severe upon detected crime as they are sympathetic and helpful when one is merely "wanted," assailed him with jeers, carrots, and popular catch-words; past hooting school children, their innocent faces lit up with the pleasure they ever derive from the sight of a gentleman in difficulties; across the hollow-sounding drawbridge, below the spiky portcullis, under the frowning archway of the grim old castle, whose ancient towers soared high overhead; past guardrooms full of grinning soldiery off duty, past sentries who coughed in a horrid, sarcastic way, because that is as much as a sentry on his post dare do to show his contempt and abhorrence of crime; up time-worn winding stairs, past men-at-arms in casquet and corselet of steel, darting threatening looks through their vizards; across courtyards, where mastiffs strained at their leash and pawed the air to get at him; past ancient warders, their halberds leant against the wall, dozing over a pasty and a flagon of brown ale; on and on, past the rack-chamber and the thumbscrew-room, past the turning that led to the private scaffold, till they reached the door of the grimmest dungeon that lay in the heart of the innermost keep.
Impressive eh? Read it aloud. Then you'll discover how long it really is. Better still read them both aloud. I just did.

It comes from Kenneth Graham's Wind in the Willows. The reason I love this very, very long sentence, is that it comes in the book just after Toad has received his own very, very long sentence - a year for the theft of a motor car, three years for "furious driving" and fifteen years for cheeking a police officer rounded up a year to make it an even 20 years to "be on the safe side".

This strikes me as being incredibly subtly cool on Mr Graham's part, and I wanted to share it with you here.

Which I have.

The rabbit trail is why. I hope you enjoyed following it as much as I did.

Don't you think word play of this type is pure delight? I just love stuff like this.


  1. You are right--this is very cool--and I love Winnie the Pooh AND Wind in the Willows.

  2. I like short sentences. My very favourite is: Jesus wept.

  3. Head's still spinning! I taught B "when you go to use an "and" try a period first." I still teach that to college students who come to me for writing help. It's generally the quickest fix to a disaster of a paper!

  4. Wow! This was neat! We have such a feast ahead of us, and you all journaling about it makes it even better. (I'll come to these Plutarch links sooner than I think, sigh, they grow fast... such a cliche, but such a truth too).

  5. hah! We're reading Wind in the Willows RIGHT NOW and I too noticed the very self same thing... of course I did not come there through all those manifold links and blogs and comments on those blogs and such ;) I'm too simple for that.

    But we did read Plutarch this week. And we loved Plutarch this week. :)
    Even if he does write in long sentences.

    thanks for taking us along the trail,
    amy in peru

  6. Oh Jeanne , I so get your point.
    Those subtle,clever aspects of literature and language really make me excited. I used to think I was weird until Sophie studied English Language for yr. 12 this year. Then I realized that heaps of people are like both you and me. I must tell the family about this one - Jeremy and Sophie will love it.
    Thought provoking post!

  7. Oh, I LOVE that long sentence! (Even though Toad managed to duck out of his.)

    And just to make it more complicated, I'll link back.

    (Thinking of you and Jemimah today...except it's still yesterday here.)

  8. What a beautifully colorful picture, was that in your book? Ours was in black and white :( That was our very favorite chapter in the book and the grimness of that dungeon was just fantastic!


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