Boy am I dumb.
Somebody I respect asked me recently if I had ever read “Murders in the Rue Morgue” by Poe. As an English major, I am constantly embarrassed by how many works of classic fiction I have NOT read, this being one of them. So I paid my ninety-nine cents and downloaded it to ye ol’ e-reader, and have been working on it today. It’s public domain (I checked), so here’s the opener:
“The mental features discoursed of as the analytical, are, in themselves, but little susceptible of analysis. We appreciate them only in their effects. We know of them, among other things, that they are always to their possessor, when inordinately possessed, a source of the liveliest enjoyment. As the strong man exults in his physical ability, delighting in such exercise as call his muscles into action, so glories the analyst in that moral activity which disentangles. He derives pleasure from even the most trivial occupations bringing his talent into play. He is fond of enigmas, of conundrums, of hieroglyphics; exhibiting in his solutions of each a degree of acumen which appears to the ordinary apprehension praeternatural. His results, brought about by the very soul and essence of method, have, in truth, the whole air of intuition.”
And there you have it.
The first paragraph from my first book:
“It was raining the day Dinny and I buried our father.”
From my most recent book:
“Sister Agnes shuffled slowly across the floor to the door where the person seeking her attention was impatiently rapping again. Sighing, she turned the knob, saying, ‘Yes?’ as she opened the door.”
I’m willing to bet that nobody will ever have to use the built-in dictionary in their e-reader when my books go viral.
So what’s happened? Are we just so enamored with story that we have forgotten words? Perhaps that’s part of it. We also have evolved over the years in our manner of speech and language. Not always, in my opinion, a positive evolution, but a necessary and unavoidable one in most cases.
I used to think I was just too dumb to appreciate Dickens. Then I found out he was paid by the word which explained those full-page run-on sentences. But when I choked my way through “Great Expectations,” I was so thankful I had. Verboseness (don’t frown – I looked it up) aside, the story….! Ah, the story…
I must say, also, that when reading the classics in their classic language, I just feel…well, smarter. It took me the first two or three pages to get into the flow of Poe’s discourse, but once I did, and with notable exceptions of French phrases, I understood most and used that handy-dandy dictionary when certain words tripped me up on my ride. But will I remember the language of the story or the story? Perhaps both. I may not be able to quote passages, but the experience of reading such rich and descriptive language that I had to work for, is rewarding in and of itself.
As for the story? You gotta read it. You ain’t gonna believe who dunnit.