Friday, June 4, 2010

Edith Wharton - Notes on William Cane's "Write Like the Masters"


Wharton’s writing characteristics:
· Concision and austerity
· Attractive setting descriptions
· A healthy dosage of foreshadowing
· Use of epiphanies to advance plot and develop character

- Her sentences are succinct and sans flowery fluff; they often read like poetry. She executed alliteration with such ease, such as in “Ethan Frome” when Ethan falls in love immediately after setting eyes on Mattie, he declares, “All his life was lived in the sight and sound of Mattie Silver.” (p. 62)

- Wharton used selection, condensation and integration to set a scene:
Selection - Only report the most crucial and relevant information. Example from “Ethan Frome”: “...and the basement windows of the church sent shafts of yellow light far across the endless undulations.” (p. 66)

Condensation - Omit words and sharpen the focus to just enough details to leave a vivid impression, especially effective when reaching a mini climax in the story, such as an arrival or departure of a character.

Integration - Weave descriptions of setting into the course of action. Just before Ethan and Mattie’s catastrophic sled ride they hear the church bell ringing, which added a dramatic sense of finality to the scene.

- Wharton foreshadowed through character details, epiphanies and action.

Details - Archer says of May, “The blood that ran so close to her fair skin might have been a preserving fluid.”

Epiphanies - After his marriage to May, “Archer suddenly felt himself looking at her with the startled gaze of a stranger.” As the story unfolds, we realize May is a coldhearted stranger to her husband Archer, and she manipulates people to prevent Archer from leaving her.

Actions - Ethan chances upon the gravestones of his parents and wonders “if, when their turn came, the same epitaph would be written over him and Zeena.” Not only did this foreshadow death; rather, Ethan's failed suicide attempt, but the way this sentence was written leaves room for interpretation of exactly what Ethan wondered. Did he wonder if the same epitaph would be written or if he would die with his wife Zeena?

(Examples on p. 67 are from “The Age of Innocence” and “Ethan Frome”.)

- Wharton’s epiphanies advance plot and develop character. She first learned the magnitude of epiphanies from James Joyce, but she considered his use of the technique narcissistic, sensationalist and purposeless - all for show.*

* Joyce’s epiphanies are to show horses as Wharton’s are to workhorses.

No comments:

Post a Comment