Joyce Carol Oates Teaches a New Online Course on the Art of the Short Story

How on Earth does Joyce Carol Oates do it? Since her debut 56 years ago she has put out 58 novels, not to mention her poetry, plays, nonfiction, diaries, and thousands — literally thousands — of short stories. (In recent years, she's also written no small number of tweets.) But though she's spent decades with the adjective prolific attached to her name, none of us would know her name in the first place if her work had nothing more distinctive about it than its sheer volume. No matter how much a writer writes, all is for naught if that writing doesn't make an impact. The question of how to make that impact, in several senses of the word, lies at the heart of Oates' new online course offered through Masterclass.

"The most powerful writing often comes from confronting taboos," Oates says in the course's trailer above. "As a writer, if one can face the darkest elements in oneself, and the things that are secret, you have such a feeling of power." The truth of that comes through in any of Oates' novels, but also in her shorter works of fiction, even the early stories that make up her very first book, 1963's collection By the North Gate.




We might call her one of the writers whose short stories offer distillations of their sensibilities, and so it makes sense that her Masterclass focuses on "the Art of the Short Story." Its fourteen lessons cover such aspects of short-story writing as drafting, revising, and sharing; observing the world with a journal; and of course, "exploring taboo and darkness."

Oates draws examples from her own vast body of work, of course, including her much-reprinted short story "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" But she also examines the writing of such predecessors as Virginia Woolf, William Carlos Williams, and Ernest Hemingway, as well as stories written by the two students who appear in the class videos. This is as close as most of us will ever get to being workshopped by Joyce Carol Oates, and if that appeals to you, you can take her Masterclass for $90 USD or buy the all-access pass to every course on the site (including courses taught by novelists like Margaret Atwood, Judy Blume, and Neil Gaiman) for $15 per month. But be warned that, however daunting the prospect of tapping into one's own dark memories and forbidden thoughts, the question of how Oates does it has another, potentially more frightening answer: eight hours a day.

FYI: If you sign up for a MasterClass course by clicking on the affiliate links in this post, Open Culture will receive a small fee that helps support our operation.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Martin Amis Explains How to Use a Thesaurus to Actually Improve Your Writing

Among all novelists currently working in the English language, how many pay the attention to style Martin Amis does? And among all novelists who have ever worked in the English language, how many pay the attention to style Vladimir Nabokov did? No wonder that the former yields to none in his appreciation for the latter. "Amis has always wanted to see Nabokov as someone resembling his own critical self — essentially, a 'celebrator,' a man whose darkness and severities have been overstated," write The New Yorker's Thomas Mallon. Amis has explicitly taken note of "Nabokov’s disdain for sympathetic identification with fictional characters, and also of his belief that artistic effect was everything, the descriptor more important than the described."

Nabokov’s declaration that “for me, ‘style’ is matter,” Mallon writes, "remains almost fearfully thrilling to Amis." And it is with one of Nabokov's principles on style that Amis begins in the Big Think video above. "There is only one school of writing," he quotes Nabokov as writing. "That of talent." You can't teach talent, of course, "but what you can do is instill certain principles," one of them being "the importance of ugly repetition." But then, "repetition has its uses, and anything is better than trying to avoid repetition through what they call 'elegant variation'" — the use, which Amis dismisses as pointless, of "using a different word when there's no change in meaning."




Most of us commit elegant variation with thesaurus in hand; hence, it would seem, that particular reference book's reputation as the tool of second-class writers and worse. But Amis himself uses the thesaurus, and heavily, as a means of "avoiding repetition of prefixes and suffixes" — he cites Nabokov's changing the title of Invitation to an Execution to Invitation to a Beheading — "as well as rhymes and half-rhymes, unintentional alliteration, et cetera." People assume "thesauruses are there so you can look up a fancy word for 'big,'" when in fact they serve their true purpose when you come to a point in a sentence "where you're unhappy with the word you've chosen not because of its meaning, but because of its rhythm. You may want a monosyllable for this concept, or you may want a trisyllable."

A writer like Amis, or indeed Nabokov (who learned English after his native Russian), will also "make sure they're not visiting an indecorum on the word's derivation." This requires nothing more than the humble dictionary, to check, for example, whether dilapidated can describe a hedge as well as a building. (It can't, and Amis explains why.) "When you look up a word in the dictionary, you own it in a way you didn't before," says Amis, who estimates that he does it himself a dozen times a day. "It's very labor-intensive. It takes a long time, sometimes, to get your sentence right rhythmically, and to clear the main words in it from misuse. And all you're winning is the respect of other serious writers. But I think any amount of effort is worth it for that."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

The Jane Austen Fiction Manuscript Archive Is Online: Explore Handwritten Drafts of Persuasion, The Watsons & More

I first came to Jane Austen prepared to dislike her, reared as I had been to think of good fiction as socially transgressive, experimental, full of heavy, life-or-death moral conflicts and existentialist anti-heroes; of extremes of dread and sorrow or alienated extremes of their lack. Austen’s characters seemed too perky and perfect, too circumscribed and wholesome, too untroubled by inner despair or outer calamity to offer much in the way of interest or example.

This is an opinion shared by more perceptive readers than myself, including Charlotte Brontë, who called Pride and Prejudice “an accurate daguerreotype portrait of a commonplace face.” Brontë “disliked [Austen] exceedingly,” writes author Mary Stolz in an introduction to Emma. The author of Jane Eyre pronounced that "Miss Austen is only shrewd and observant," where a novelist like George Sand is "sagacious and profound."




A cursory reading of Austen can seem to confirm Brontë’s faint praise. Consider the first description of her heroine matchmaker, Emma:

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence, and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

No great, shocking disasters befall Emma. She is buffeted neither by war nor poverty, crime, disease, oppression or any other essentially dramatic conflict. She ends the novel joining hands in marriage with charming gentleman farmer Mr. Knightly, content, maybe ever-after, in “perfect happiness.”

Rarely if ever in Austen do we find the torments, spiritual strivings, sublime and grotesque imaginings, proto-science-fiction, and world-historical consciousness of contemporaries like William Blake, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, or Mary Shelley. Austen is “famous,” writes Stolz, “for having lived through the period of the French Revolution without ever mentioning it in her writings.”

To see this as a critique, however, is to seriously misjudge her. “She did not deal in revolutions of this order. Not a traveled woman, she wrote only of what she knew”: life in English country villages, the travails of “love and money,” as she put it, the everyday longings, courtesies, and discourtesies that make up the majority of our everyday lives.

We can see Austen doing just that in her own hand at the Jane Austen's Fiction Manuscripts Digital Edition. A collection of scanned manuscripts from the Bodleian, British Library, Pierpont Morgan Library, private collectors, and King’s College, Cambridge, this project “represents every stage of her writing career and a variety of physical states: working drafts, fair copies, and handwritten publications for private circulation.”

This is primarily a resource for scholars; much of this work has been published in printed editions, including the Juvenilia (read some of that writing here) and unfinished drafts like The Watsons and her last, uncompleted, novel, Sanditon. (One still-in-print 1975 edition collects the three unfinished novels found at the digital collection). Each digital edition of the manuscript includes a head note on the textual history, provenance, and physical structure, as well as a transcription of the text. There is also an option to view a "diplomatic edition" that transcribes the text with all of Austen's corrections and additions.

Yet any Austen fan will appreciate seeing her witty, incisive style change and take shape in her own neat script. In an age of superheroes, historical and fantasy epics, and dystopian fantasies, we are beset by “the big Bow-Wow strain,” as Walter Scott self-effacingly called his own novels. In Austen’s writing, we find what Scott described as an “exquisite touch which renders commonplace things and characters interesting from the truth of the description and the sentiment.” She wraps her truths in wicked irony and a satirical voice, but they are truths we recognize as wise and compassionate in her domestic dramas and our own.

Austen knew well that her settings and characters were limited. She made no apologies for it and clearly needn’t have. “Three or four families in a country village,” she wrote to her niece Anna, “is the very thing to work on.” She also knew well the universal tendencies that blind us to the variety found within the everyday, whether our everyday is a sleepy country village life or a tech-laden, 21st-century city.

She almost seems to sigh wearily in Emma when she observes, “human nature is so well disposed toward those who are in interesting situations” … so much so that we fail to notice what’s going on all around us all the time. She wrote neither for money nor fame, and her work wasn’t even published with her name until after her death in July 1817, but she has since become fiercely beloved for the very qualities Brontë disparaged.

Austen didn’t miss a thing, which makes her novels as canny and insightful (and big-screen and fan-fiction adaptable) as when they were first written over two-hundred years ago. Enter the Jane Austen's Fiction Manuscripts Digital Edition here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Anton Chekhov’s Six Rules For Writing Fiction

Whether due to insecurity, inexperience, or just intellectual curiosity, writers of fiction can sometimes privilege sounding smart over connecting with their readers. The result is the dreaded “information dump,” an attempt to include everything: everything, that is, but that which makes fiction compelling: minutely detailed descriptions of characters we care about; sharply observed situations that move us; moral complexity that feels earned and genuine…

All qualities that might fall under the adjective “Chekhovian.”

Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, country doctor and masterful short story writer, put himself through medical school by writing fiction readers could not put down. He has since become a standard for realist concision—the short story analogue to Gustave Flaubert’s mastery of the novel form.




And like Flaubert, Chekhov mastered his art by placing strict limits on himself. These he outlined in an 1886 letter to his brother Aleksandr in a concise six-point list, which you’ll find below.

  1. Absence of lengthy verbiage of political-social-economic nature;
  2. Total objectivity;
  3. Truthful description of persons and objects;
  4. Extreme brevity;
  5. Audacity and originality: flee the stereotype;
  6. Compassion

Many of these prescriptions can sound like the CIA-approved rules informally enforced by the 20th-century Iowa Writer's Workshop. One can draw a line from Chekhov to Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Connor, John Updike, and other writers likely to have appeared in The New Yorker. But many writers besides Chekhov have complained of overly verbose, opinionated fiction.

19th century writer Henry James disparaged what he called the “large loose baggy monsters” of Fyodor Dostoevsky and other serial novelists, for example. Another novelist, Jay McInerney takes a phrase from Renaissance scholar Walter Pater to describe the brevity of the short story: the form, he writes, creates a “hard, gemlike flame.” This seems to be what Chekhov strove for in his mature work.

But three years earlier, he had perfected a very different kind of story, and issued a very different list of prescriptions to his brother. In 1883, Chekhov advised that if Aleksandr wished to get published in the magazine Fragments, he should observe the following: “1. The shorter, the better; 2. A bit of ideology and being up to date is most à propos; 3. Caricature is just fine, but ignorance of civil service ranks and of the seasons is strictly prohibited.”

We can see the author’s noted concern for accuracy, but not the ultimate and most concise item on his mature list: Compassion, a quality that eclipses typology and ideology. Chekhov may not always have adhered closely to some of his own rules, as ethnographic writer Kirin Narayan shows. After all, who can achieve “total objectivity”? But “embedded” in this ideal is “the recognition” writes Maria Popova at Brain Pickings, “that no depiction of reality is realistic unless it includes an empathic account of all perspectives.”

via Brain Pickings

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Steven Pinker’s 13 Rules for Good Writing

Photo by Rose Lincoln, via Wikimedia Commons

What is good writing? The question requires context. Each type of writing has its norms. Some guidelines apply across disciplines—consult your Strunk and White or any of the hundreds of handbooks recommending strong verbs and minimal use of passive voice. Still, you wouldn’t necessarily put the question to an experimental poet if your concern is informative writing (though maybe you should). Maybe better to ask a scholar who writes clear prose.

Harvard Professor of Psychology Steven Pinker could serve as such a guide, given the popularity of his books with the reading public (their debatable merits for certain critics aside). Luckily for his readers—and those generally seeking to better their writing—Pinker has offered his services free on Twitter with a 13-point list of rules. Unlikely to cause controversy among English teachers, Pinker’s guidelines enact the succinctness they recommend.




Rants about the unintelligibility of academic writing have become genre all their own, but jargon and specialized terminology have their place in certain niches, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with difficulty. Readers can argue amongst themselves about whether some kinds of writing are needlessly overcomplicated. (Fairly or not, poststructuralist French philosophers take a beating on this score, but spend some time with Kant or Hegel and see how easily you breeze through.)

Yet most of us are not professional philosophers, scientists, or theorists writing only for colleagues or coteries. When we write, we want to communicate clearly: to inform, persuade, and even entertain a general readership. In order to do that, we need to minimize abstractions, appeal to the senses, clear away clutter and make connections for our readers. Revision is key. Reading aloud gives the ear a chance to weed out clumsiness the eye can miss. All of these trusted strategies appear in Pinker’s list.

One point Pinker adds to the usual prescriptions has a suitably psychological bent, and an oddly Biblical-sounding name: the “Curse of Knowledge.” Knowing too much about a subject can make it “hard to imagine what it’s like not to know it.” For those who want to know more about clear, concise writing, or who need the inevitable refresher from which even the knowledgeable benefit, see Pinker’s 13 rules below or on Twitter.

  1. Reverse-engineer what you read. If it feels like good writing, what makes it good? If it’s awful, why? 
  2. Prose is a window onto the world. Let your readers see what you are seeing by using visual, concrete language.
  3. Don’t go meta. Minimize concepts about concepts, like “approach, assumption, concept, condition, context, framework, issue, level, model, perspective, process, range, role, strategy, tendency,” and “variable.”
  4. Let verbs be verbs. “Appear,” not “make an appearance.”
  5. Beware of the Curse of Knowledge: when you know something, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like not to know it. Minimize acronyms & technical terms. Use “for example” liberally. Show a draft around, & prepare to learn that what’s obvious to you may not be obvious to anyone else.
  6. Omit needless words (Will Strunk was right about this).
  7. Avoid clichés like the plague (thanks, William Safire).
  8. Old information at the beginning of the sentence, new information at the end.
  9. Save the heaviest for last: a complex phrase should go at the end of the sentence.
  10. Prose must cohere: readers must know how each sentence is related to the preceding one. If it’s not obvious, use “that is, for example, in general, on the other hand, nevertheless, as a result, because, nonetheless,” or “despite.”
  11. Revise several times with the single goal of improving the prose.
  12. Read it aloud.
  13. Find the best word, which is not always the fanciest word. Consult a dictionary with usage notes, and a thesaurus.

via Big Think

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

When William Faulkner Set the World Record for Writing the Longest Sentence in Literature: Read the 1,288-Word Sentence from Absalom, Absalom!

Image by Carl Van Vechten, via Wikimedia Commons

“How did Faulkner pull it off?” is a question many a fledgling writer has asked themselves while struggling through a period of apprenticeship like that novelist John Barth describes in his 1999 talk "My Faulkner." Barth “reorchestrated” his literary heroes, he says, “in search of my writerly self... downloading my innumerable predecessors as only an insatiable green apprentice can.” Surely a great many writers can relate when Barth says, “it was Faulkner at his most involuted and incantatory who most enchanted me.” For many a writer, the Faulknerian sentence is an irresistible labyrinth. His syntax has a way of weaving itself into the unconscious, emerging as fair to middling imitation.

While studying at Johns Hopkins University, Barth found himself writing about his native Eastern Shore Maryland in a pastiche style of “middle Faulkner and late Joyce.” He may have won some praise from a visiting young William Styron, “but the finished opus didn’t fly—for one thing, because Faulkner intimately knew his Snopses and Compsons and Sartorises, as I did not know my made-up denizens of the Maryland marsh.” The advice to write only what you know may not be worth much as a universal commandment. But studying the way that Faulkner wrote when he turned to the subjects he knew best provides an object lesson on how powerful a literary resource intimacy can be.




Not only does Faulkner’s deep affiliation with his characters’ inner lives elevate his portraits far above the level of local color or regionalist curiosity, but it animates his sentences, makes them constantly move and breathe. No matter how long and twisted they get, they do not wilt, wither, or drag; they run river-like, turning around in asides, outraging themselves and doubling and tripling back. Faulkner’s intimacy is not earnestness, it is the uncanny feeling of a raw encounter with a nerve center lighting up with information, all of it seemingly critically important.

It is the extraordinary sensory quality of his prose that enabled Faulkner to get away with writing the longest sentence in literature, at least according to the 1983 Guinness Book of World Records, a passage from Absalom, Absalom! consisting of 1,288 words and who knows how many different kinds of clauses. There are now longer sentences in English writing. Jonathan Coe’s The Rotter’s Club ends with a 33-page long whopper with 13,955 words in it. Entire novels hundreds of pages long have been written in one sentence in other languages. All of Faulkner’s modernist contemporaries, including of course Joyce, Wolff, and Beckett, mastered the use of run-ons, to different effect.

But, for a time, Faulkner took the run-on as far as it could go. He may have had no intention of inspiring postmodern fiction, but one of its best-known novelists, Barth, only found his voice by first writing a “heavily Faulknerian marsh-opera.” Many hundreds of experimental writers have had almost identical experiences trying to exorcise the Oxford, Mississippi modernist’s voice from their prose. Read that onetime longest sentence in literature, all 1,288 words of it, below.

Just exactly like Father if Father had known as much about it the night before I went out there as he did the day after I came back thinking Mad impotent old man who realized at last that there must be some limit even to the capabilities of a demon for doing harm, who must have seen his situation as that of the show girl, the pony, who realizes that the principal tune she prances to comes not from horn and fiddle and drum but from a clock and calendar, must have seen himself as the old wornout cannon which realizes that it can deliver just one more fierce shot and crumble to dust in its own furious blast and recoil, who looked about upon the scene which was still within his scope and compass and saw son gone, vanished, more insuperable to him now than if the son were dead since now (if the son still lived) his name would be different and those to call him by it strangers and whatever dragon’s outcropping of Sutpen blood the son might sow on the body of whatever strange woman would therefore carry on the tradition, accomplish the hereditary evil and harm under another name and upon and among people who will never have heard the right one; daughter doomed to spinsterhood who had chosen spinsterhood already before there was anyone named Charles Bon since the aunt who came to succor her in bereavement and sorrow found neither but instead that calm absolutely impenetrable face between a homespun dress and sunbonnet seen before a closed door and again in a cloudy swirl of chickens while Jones was building the coffin and which she wore during the next year while the aunt lived there and the three women wove their own garments and raised their own food and cut the wood they cooked it with (excusing what help they had from Jones who lived with his granddaughter in the abandoned fishing camp with its collapsing roof and rotting porch against which the rusty scythe which Sutpen was to lend him, make him borrow to cut away the weeds from the door-and at last forced him to use though not to cut weeds, at least not vegetable weeds -would lean for two years) and wore still after the aunt’s indignation had swept her back to town to live on stolen garden truck and out o f anonymous baskets left on her front steps at night, the three of them, the two daughters negro and white and the aunt twelve miles away watching from her distance as the two daughters watched from theirs the old demon, the ancient varicose and despairing Faustus fling his final main now with the Creditor’s hand already on his shoulder, running his little country store now for his bread and meat, haggling tediously over nickels and dimes with rapacious and poverty-stricken whites and negroes, who at one time could have galloped for ten miles in any direction without crossing his own boundary, using out of his meagre stock the cheap ribbons and beads and the stale violently-colored candy with which even an old man can seduce a fifteen-year-old country girl, to ruin the granddaughter o f his partner, this Jones-this gangling malaria-ridden white man whom he had given permission fourteen years ago to squat in the abandoned fishing camp with the year-old grandchild-Jones, partner porter and clerk who at the demon’s command removed with his own hand (and maybe delivered too) from the showcase the candy beads and ribbons, measured the very cloth from which Judith (who had not been bereaved and did not mourn) helped the granddaughter to fashion a dress to walk past the lounging men in, the side-looking and the tongues, until her increasing belly taught her embarrassment-or perhaps fear;-Jones who before ’61 had not even been allowed to approach the front of the house and who during the next four years got no nearer than the kitchen door and that only when he brought the game and fish and vegetables on which the seducer-to-be’s wife and daughter (and Clytie too, the one remaining servant, negro, the one who would forbid him to pass the kitchen door with what he brought) depended on to keep life in them, but who now entered the house itself on the (quite frequent now) afternoons when the demon would suddenly curse the store empty of customers and lock the door and repair to the rear and in the same tone in which he used to address his orderly or even his house servants when he had them (and in which he doubtless ordered Jones to fetch from the showcase the ribbons and beads and candy) direct Jones to fetch the jug, the two of them (and Jones even sitting now who in the old days, the old dead Sunday afternoons of monotonous peace which they spent beneath the scuppernong arbor in the back yard, the demon lying in the hammock while Jones squatted against a post, rising from time to time to pour for the demon from the demijohn and the bucket of spring water which he had fetched from the spring more than a mile away then squatting again, chortling and chuckling and saying `Sho, Mister Tawm’ each time the demon paused)-the two of them drinking turn and turn about from the jug and the demon not lying down now nor even sitting but reaching after the third or second drink that old man’s state of impotent and furious undefeat in which he would rise, swaying and plunging and shouting for his horse and pistols to ride single-handed into Washington and shoot Lincoln (a year or so too late here) and Sherman both, shouting, ‘Kill them! Shoot them down like the dogs they are!’ and Jones: ‘Sho, Kernel; sho now’ and catching him as he fell and commandeering the first passing wagon to take him to the house and carry him up the front steps and through the paintless formal door beneath its fanlight imported pane by pane from Europe which Judith held open for him to enter with no change, no alteration in that calm frozen face which she had worn for four years now, and on up the stairs and into the bedroom and put him to bed like a baby and then lie down himself on the floor beside the bed though not to sleep since before dawn the man on the bed would stir and groan and Jones would say, ‘flyer I am, Kernel. Hit’s all right. They aint whupped us yit, air they?’ this Jones who after the demon rode away with the regiment when the granddaughter was only eight years old would tell people that he ‘was lookin after Major’s place and niggers’ even before they had time to ask him why he was not with the troops and perhaps in time came to believe the lie himself, who was among the first to greet the demon when he returned, to meet him at the gate and say, ‘Well, Kernel, they kilt us but they aint whupped us yit, air they?’ who even worked, labored, sweat at the demon’s behest during that first furious period while the demon believed he could restore by sheer indomitable willing the Sutpen’s Hundred which he remembered and had lost, labored with no hope of pay or reward who must have seen long before the demon did (or would admit it) that the task was hopeless-blind Jones who apparently saw still in that furious lecherous wreck the old fine figure of the man who once galloped on the black thoroughbred about that domain two boundaries of which the eye could not see from any point.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Alice in Wonderland, Hamlet, and A Christmas Carol Written in Shorthand (Circa 1919)

For hundreds of years before the regular use of dictation machines, word processors, and computers, many thousands of court records, correspondence, journalism, and so on circulated in translation. All of these texts were originally in their native language, but they were transcribed in a different writing system, then translated back into the standard orthography, by stenographers using various kinds of shorthand. In English, this meant that a mess of irregular, phonetically nonsensical spellings turned into a streamlined, orderly symbolic system, impenetrable to anyone who hadn't studied it thoroughly.

I do not know the rates of accuracy in shorthand writing or translation. Nor do I know how many original shorthand manuscripts still exist for comparison’s sake. But for centuries, shorthand systems were used to record lectures, letters, and interviews, and to write edicts, essays, articles, etc., in Imperial China, ancient Greece and Rome, and modern Europe, North America, and Japan.




The practice reached a peak in the late nineteenth and early 20th centuries, when stenography became a growth industry. Jack El-Hai at Wonders and Marvels explains.

A century ago, hundreds of thousands of people around the world regularly used shorthand. Secretaries, stenographers, court reporters, journalists and others depended on the elaborate shorthand systems that Isaac Pitman and John Robert Gregg developed in the nineteenth century, and countless schools and publishers seized the business opportunity to train them. Talented practitioners could write at speeds up to 280 words per minute.

The texts of systems like Pitman and Gregg’s “grew increasingly complex,” then increasingly simplified during latter half of the 20th century. “In 1903, the publishers of the Gregg method released the first novel entirely rendered in shorthand—an 87-page edition of Letters from a Self-Made Merchant to His Son by George Horace Latimer."

More literature in shorthand followed, marking the Gregg system's most baroque period. Ten years later saw the publication of Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, then, in 1918, with Alice in Wonderland, Hamlet, and A Christmas Carol, and stories like Guy de Maupassant’s “The Diamond Necklace,” Edgar Allan Poe’s “A Descent into the Maelström." All of this literary shorthand is written in what is known as “Pre-Anniversary” Gregg, which contained the largest number of symbols and devices. In 1929, a year-late “Anniversary Edition” began a period of simplification that culminated in 1988, a century after the system’s first publication.

The literature published in Gregg shorthand joined in a history of shorthand “used by (or to preserve the work of) everyone from Cicero to Luther to Shakespeare to Pepys,” writes the Public Domain Review. And yet, the “utilitarian function of shorthand sits a little oddly perhaps with literature, given the novel or the poem is a form associated with a different realm: that of leisure.” One should not have to train in a specialized phonemic orthography to read and enjoy Alice in Wonderland, but, on the off chance that you did so train, there is at least much enjoyable and edifying material with which to practice, or show off, your skills.

It would, I maintain, be a fascinating exercise to compare translations of these well-known works from the shorthand with their originals manuscripts written in the phonetic chaos of the English we recognize. Whether or not you have the skill to undertake this experiment, you can see many of these Gregg’s shorthand editions here and at the Internet Archive. Just click on the embeds above to see larger images and view and download a variety of formats.

via The Public Domain Review

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Behold Lewis Carroll’s Original Handwritten & Illustrated Manuscript for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1864)

Has the Voynich Manuscript Finally Been Decoded?: Researchers Claim That the Mysterious Text Was Written in Phonetic Old Turkish

Learn 48 Languages Online for Free: Spanish, Chinese, English & More 

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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