Tuesday, May 1, 2012

In Praise of Luxuriant Language

"I like words—strike that. I love wordsand while I am fond of the condensed and economical use of them in poetry, in song lyrics, in Twitter, in good journalism and smart advertising, I love the luxuriant profession and mad scatter of them too. After all, as you will already have noticed, I am the kind of person who writes things like 'I shall append a superscribed obelus, thus'. If my manner of writing is a self-indulgence that has you grinding your teeth then I am sorry, but I am too old a dog be taught to bark new tunes." Stephen Fry in The Fry Chronicles, an Autobiography...

If you're an Anglophile like I am, you will love this book. I just got it yesterday afternoon and I'm already halfway through it. Fry has such a warm and engrossing command of the English language, reading him or listening to him is like cuddling oneself into a plump feather bed of words. It's about time someone cared enough about our language to use it unabashedly and with so much ease.
"...in every particular I fail Strunk's Elements of Style or any other manual of 'good writing'. If a thing can be said in ten words, I may be relied upon to take a hundred to say it. I ought to apologize for that. I ought to go back and ruthlessly prune, pare and extirpate excess growth, but I will not."
Stephen Fry is my hero. I've been advocating this for years, but I never professed it so honestly nor so unapologetically.

I really can't say anything bad about this book. I suppose, if you're not a Stephen Fry fan, or you have absolutely no interest in Cambridge life or British theatre, you might find it a honk-shoo, but I doubt it because Fry is so eloquent that even his day-to-day memories are recalled in a fascinating way. This is because he lets the reader in. I get the feeling that I am sitting in a room with him while he talks about his life. And he has the gift of being able to do this without coming off like a boor, or a pretentious windbag. He's too self-effacing for that, and all too aware of his human foibles. What I enjoy most is how he plays with the language. Unafraid of adverbs, adjectives, metaphor, an impressive vocabulary and even the verboten "very", he comes out with little gems like,
"That Lent term passed in a blizzard of acting. By the end of it I was an insider in the small world of Cambridge drama. The little microcosm reflected the esoteric coteries, cliques and factions (I only put the word 'esoteric' in front of 'coteries' because it is an anagram of it and that pleases me) of the wider world without."
and
"If someone asks me how to do something, I cannot answer in the abstract, I can only answer according to my own history. I have absolutely no idea how to become an actor, I can only tell you how I became one. Or at least, how I became a sort of actor who is also a sort of writer who is also a sort of comedian who is also a sort of broadcaster who is also a sort of all sorts of all sorts sort. Sort of. That is the best I can do."
I have a feeling my bookshelves are soon going to have to make way for a Stephen Fry section. I'm also pleased to learn that he's from East Anglia, a part of England for which I too feel a special fondness.

(Click the book cover image to be taken to the book's Amazon page.)

2 comments :

  1. I have had the book for months - and it is still in the 'to be read' pile. Must do it soon. I think he is wonderful.

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