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Denis Dutton, review - Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner, Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose | Philosophy and Literature 21 (1997): 504-507
Every once in a while a book comes along with the power to alter permanently the view of a subject you thought you knew well. For me this year, that book is Clear and Simple as the Truth: Writing Classic Prose, Francis-Noël Thomas and Mark Turner (Princeton University Press, $14.95).....But it is actually a treatise on one particular style, which the authors call classic prose. This is a specifiable kind of writing that can be found in every literate culture, they insist, even if their examples are all European. At the center of the classic style is the nonfiction essay, although it is a style used for fiction as well. They begin with a sentence from La Rochefoucauld: [and compare it with a tortured construction by Johnson in his preface to Shakespeare]. -- It may look easy to write, but that is part of the trick of classic prose. It is efficient and precise, and seems utterly spontaneous. However, that natural sound is not the sound of speech, Thomas and Turner say, it is the sound of writing. Writing such as La Rochefoucauld’s embodies or expresses a certain attitude toward the truth. For Johnson’s sentence, writing “hard and noble,” as they call it, and truth is something that cannot be captured in mere speech, but is rather “the reward of effort.” For the classic style, “Truth is a grace that flees from earnest effort. The language of truth is ideally graceful speech.” -- Dutton describes the attitude towards an equality of conversation and interest in pursuing shared knowledge -while acknowledging limits to access to certainty and foibles of prejudices etc - that underpins the classical style. Very applicable to Bolingbroke
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