Saturday, March 24, 2012

F. Scott Fitzgerald's Painfully Exquisite Imagery

As I've mentioned, the latest classic on my Kindle is F. Scott Fitzgerald's THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE DAMNED.  He uses imagery to painfully exact effect, not only to evoke the sensory experience but also to address the emotional resonance of a moment at its most nuanced level.  This is especially striking to me because he has such an aloofness to his style.  To manage both that sense of distance and that intimacy of experience just knocks me for a loop.  Another writer whose skill with words extends to that perfect expression of moments of the soul is Virginia Woolf, my personal all-time favorite.

Here's an example from Fitzgerald - a scene that could be described this way:
Anthony and Gloria caught a cab.  They drove through the city at night, passing the tall buildings.  He kissed her.  She let him.
But this is how Fitzgerald describes it:
A cab yawned at the curb.  As it moved off like a boat on a labyrinthine ocean and lost itself among the inchoate night masses of great buildings, among the now stilled, now strident, cries and clangings, Anthony put his arm around the girl, drew her over to him and kissed her damp, childish mouth.
She was silent.  She turned her face up to him, pale under the wisps and patches of light that trailed in like moonshine through foliage.  Her eyes were gleaming ripples in the white lake of her face; the shadows of her hair bordered the brow with a persuasive unintimate dusk.   ...
Such a kiss - it was a flower held against the face, never to be described, scarcely to be remembered; as though her beauty itself were giving off emanations of itself which settled transiently and already dissolving upon his heart.
As my husband Sam pointed out, Hemingway probably would've wanted to punch Fitzgerald in the throat.  I, on the other hand, find this level of writing makes me both excruciatingly jealous (If only I wrote half so well!)  and utterly inspired.

Who are the writers that have this effect on you, that capture ineffable moments and make them, well, effable?

(By the way, in case your wondering, "inchoate" means "not fully formed" or "still developing" - apt for the night images of the buildings and for the relationship between Gloria and Anthony.)


  1. Craig7:04 PM

    I think Hemingway would have split the difference "Inside the cab, his arm closed around her. She sat mute as the silent buildings flowed by,disappearing when his lips closed on hers. He held the kiss as if it was their last and not their first."

    1. Look at you go, Craig! I am increasingly convinced that I will have to put Hemingway on my "reread the classics" list, if for no other reason than to counteract the influence of richly textured imagery with which I've been surrounding myself through my more recent choices.

  2. Thanks, Cyntia. That excerpt made my afternoon. The things one can do with language.

    Oh, to write like that. I'll get there (perhaps)!

  3. I love it when I feel inspired by another author's abilities. :)


Popular Posts