Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Purple Prose

The jacarandas are in bloom!

I do love them. The sad thing is that the blossoms don’t last long. We’re lucky if we get two weeks’ worth of their beauty. They get hammered by torrential rain or the heat gets them or both. When we lived in Wellington, NZ, I was amazed by the lifetimes of the agapanthus and hydrangea flowers. The blooms would flower for two, sometimes three, months. Months, not days.

It seems to me that there’s a fine line between flowery prose, overwriting and, well, just writing. Recently in class we were doing a group critique, and I was picked out by one of my peers as having a sentence that was “flowery”.  The sentence in question was, “…he looked at me and he laughed. He laughed in astonishment, with delight and with rapture; it seemed to be all these things at once.” There may be a touch of overwriting in there, but I can’t see any flowers. And, as this is the Gothic genre, I’m allowed to get away with a certain amount of overstating the obvious. It’s one of the conventions of the genre. 

Of course I didn’t say anything to my fellow student, but I’ve been thinking about this. How many readers/critics think the wonderful Gerard Manley Hopkins guilty of flowery writing? Don’t misunderstand me; I love his poetry. But it was this line that got me wondering, “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things”.  Isn’t it beautiful? But isn’t it also a little bit icky?

As I’m currently writing an essay on the ex-textual career of Tim Winton, I’ve had a good look at his prose, too. One reviewer described it as “bony”, which to my mind it isn’t. It’s evocative and lyrical. Vivacious – now there’s a flowery word for you. Why is it flowery? Is it because it sounds like the name of a flower? Have you seen the viviacious? They’re in bloom.* I digress – and it’s vivid. If the writing is spare it’s because most of Winton’s protagonists are blokes, and they don’t waste words. So, yes, it’s blokey. I love that about his work.  The book I’ve been looking at is The Riders. I keep finding phrases in it that remind me of what it is to be an Australian. “He picked it up carefully and pressed the cashmere to his face. It smelt of frangipani, of sunlight …”

I had a lot of trouble trying to take the perfect shot of the perfect jacaranda. What I really wanted to achieve was a dark, gloomy look with the purple jumping out at you. I’m new at being a serious photographer, so I haven’t achieved that. And I had to walk back from the park last night with the dog in the near dark, having misjudged the light. But you can see I was inspired along the way… 

*I imagine them to be fleshy, with petals in colours of deep reds and, yes, purples.  (Sorry.)

1 comment:

  1. So loving your posts Kathy. I love how you are connecting your thoughts about words with everything around and in you. Especially travel and flowers. I love how you are questioning what flowery means. So true. Keep them coming.

    Your avid fan, lav. :)