And Then there’s Alice


I’ve never read Alice in Wonderland, and now I’ve added it to my 100-novels list. So far, I’m loving it, especially its beautiful sentences.

Lewis Carroll’s sentences are wonderful, graceful and marvelous examples of craft. Early in my reading I was particularly impressed with the following sentence and how it handles narrative proportion:

Suddenly she  came upon a little three-legged table, all made of solid glass: there was nothing on it but a tiny golden key, and Alice’s first idea was that this might belong to one of the doors of the hall; but alas! either the locks were too large, or the key was too small, but at any rate it would not open any of them.

A less skillful writer might’ve chopped this sentence into three sentences, and thus breaking  up the rhythm and making  the action choppy, in particular the action that follows the colon after "glass". I can imagine sentences like this:

There was nothing on it but a tiny golden key, and Alice’s first idea was that this might belong to one of the doors. She tried the keys. Either the locks were too big, or the key was too small. None of the doors opened.

I could also imagine a modern editor insisting upon such breaks to get rid of the repetition of "but". As we know, repetition is a sin in modern editing.

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2 thoughts on “And Then there’s Alice

  1. You’re right about this sentence- it’s beautifully written. It takes a lot of skill and confidence to pull off a sentence like that though. I always find myself trying to simplify my writing because it is ‘safer’ (and probably less interesting).

  2. First you haven’t seen The Godfather. Now you’re just reading Alice. What cave DID you crawl out of?

    It’s one of my favorite books, even though I haven’t read it since elementary school. I was inspired to pick it up after seeing the Disney movie.

    I must say I am disappointed in you for not one “White Rabbit” reference in this whole post.

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