The Reader Over Your Shoulder

Last updated

The Reader Over Your Shoulder: A Handbook for Writers of English Prose (1943) is a style guide by the poet and novelist Robert Graves and the historian and journalist Alan Hodge. It takes the form of a study of the principles and history of writing in English, followed by a series of passages by well-known writers subjected to a critical analysis by Graves and Hodge. It was favourably reviewed on first publication, and has since received enthusiastic praise.

Contents

Composition

The book's authors, Robert Graves and Alan Hodge, had been friends since they had met in Mallorca in 1935, when Hodge was still an undergraduate. [1] They collaborated on a social history of Britain between the two world wars, The Long Week-End . [2] By August 1940 [3] the two were working together on what Graves called a "new book about English prose...for the general reader, and also for intelligent colleges and VI-forms". [4] Originally intended to help Graves's daughter Jenny Nicholson, it was eventually published as The Reader Over Your Shoulder: A Handbook for Writers of English Prose. [5] Its plan, which owes something to Laura Riding's 1938 work The World and Ourselves, is as follows: [3] first come chapters entitled "The Peculiar Qualities of English", "The Present Confusion of English Prose", "Where Is Good English to Be Found?", and "The Use and Abuse of Official English"; then a history of English prose, quoting many examples; then chapters on "The Principles of Clear Statement" and "The Graces of Prose"; finally, taking up the greater part of the book, the authors present under the title "Examinations and Fair Copies" fifty-four stylistically aberrant passages by well-known writers, analyze their faults, and rewrite them in better English. This last section, according to the academic Denis Donoghue, "accounted for much of the fame and nearly all of the delight that the book has given its readers". [6] Getting copyright waivers from each of the 54 writers made demands on the co-authors' time, and since this section was, in Graves's words, "dynamite under so many chairs", also on their diplomacy. [7] Their private nickname for the book was A Short Cut to Unpopularity. [8] The publishers Faber and Faber initially accepted the book while it was still in progress, but later took fright and dropped it; [9] it was finally published in May 1943 by Jonathan Cape. There have been several later editions, some at full length and some drastically abridged. [10] [11]

Reception

G. W. Stonier, reviewing The Reader Over Your Shoulder in the New Statesman and Nation , regretted that "a book, whose general aims are admirable, should be spoilt so often by its pedantry", [12] but most other contemporary reviews were favourable: "it might seem that The Reader Over Your Shoulder would be unavoidably dry on questions of punctuation and grammar, but even here it is witty and stimulating — a desk-book for the writer that should never fail to key him up", [13] "a stimulating and stirring book, which meets a great and genuine need of our times", "instructive and entertaining book", "highly pleasurable and in some degree profitable", [12] "any editor of [this journal] would mortgage the office filing cabinet to place this book before the eyes of every contributor". [14] The Spectator wryly noted that "this book, with its high standards, its scholarship and its brilliance, is exactly calculated to suit the contemporary taste for spiced and potted knowledge which it deplores". [15] Evelyn Waugh wrote in The Tablet , "This is the century of the common man; let him write as he speaks and let him speak as he pleases. This the deleterious opinion to which The Reader Over Your Shoulder provides a welcome corrective"; he ended, "as a result of having read [it]...I have taken about three times as long to write this review as is normal, and still dread committing it to print". [16] It has been highly praised in the years since. For the sociologist C. Wright Mills it was "the best book I know" on writing, [17] for the academic Greg Myers, "relentlessly prescriptive and hilarious", [18] for the journalist Mark Halperin "one of the three or four books on usage that deserve a place on the same shelf as Fowler". [19] The biographer Miranda Seymour said that "as a handbook to style, it has never been bettered", [3] and the literary critic Denis Donoghue wrote, "I don't know any other book in which expository prose is read so seriously, carefully, helpfully. For this reason the book is just as important as I. A. Richards' Practical Criticism". He went on, "there is no point in being scandalized by the assumption in The Reader Over Your Shoulder that good English is the sort of English written by Graves and Hodge. In my opinion, that claim is justified." [20]

Related Research Articles

Robert Graves English poet and novelist

Robert von Ranke Graves was a British poet, historical novelist, critic, and classicist. His father was Alfred Perceval Graves, a celebrated Irish poet and figure in the Gaelic revival; they were both Celticists and students of Irish mythology. Graves produced more than 140 works in his lifetime. His poems, his translations and innovative analysis of the Greek myths, his memoir of his early life—including his role in World War I—Good-Bye to All That, and his speculative study of poetic inspiration, The White Goddess, have never been out of print.

<i>The White Goddess</i>

The White Goddess: a Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth is a book-length essay on the nature of poetic myth-making by author and poet Robert Graves. First published in 1948, the book is based on earlier articles published in Wales magazine, corrected, revised and enlarged editions appeared in 1948, 1952 and 1961. The White Goddess represents an approach to the study of mythology from a decidedly creative and idiosyncratic perspective. Graves proposes the existence of a European deity, the "White Goddess of Birth, Love and Death", much similar to the Mother Goddess, inspired and represented by the phases of the moon, who lies behind the faces of the diverse goddesses of various European and pagan mythologies.

Arthur Quiller-Couch 19th/20th-century British writer and literary critic

Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch was a Cornish writer who published using the pseudonym Q. Although a prolific novelist, he is remembered mainly for the monumental publication The Oxford Book Of English Verse 1250–1900 and for his literary criticism. He influenced many who never met him, including American writer Helene Hanff, author of 84, Charing Cross Road and its sequel, Q's Legacy. His Oxford Book of English Verse was a favourite of John Mortimer's fictional character Horace Rumpole.

Robert Creeley American poet

Robert White Creeley was an American poet and author of more than sixty books. He is usually associated with the Black Mountain poets, though his verse aesthetic diverged from that school's. He was close with Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, John Wieners and Ed Dorn. He served as the Samuel P. Capen Professor of Poetry and the Humanities at State University of New York at Buffalo. In 1991, he joined colleagues Susan Howe, Charles Bernstein, Raymond Federman, Robert Bertholf, and Dennis Tedlock in founding the Poetics Program at Buffalo. Creeley lived in Waldoboro, Buffalo, and Providence, where he taught at Brown University. He was a recipient of the Lannan Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.

Brian Moore (novelist)

Brian Moore, was a novelist and screenwriter from Northern Ireland who emigrated to Canada and later lived in the United States. He was acclaimed for the descriptions in his novels of life in Northern Ireland after the Second World War, in particular his explorations of the inter-communal divisions of The Troubles, and has been described as "one of the few genuine masters of the contemporary novel". He was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1975 and the inaugural Sunday Express Book of the Year award in 1987, and he was shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times. Moore also wrote screenplays and several of his books were made into films.

Oliver Onions

George Oliver Onions, who published under the name Oliver Onions, was a British writer of short stories and over 40 novels. He wrote in a variety of genres but is perhaps best remembered for his ghost stories, notably the highly regarded collection Widdershins and the widely anthologized novella "The Beckoning Fair One". He was married to the novelist Berta Ruck.

Martin Roger Seymour-Smith was a British poet, literary critic, biographer and astrologer.

Frank Kermode Manx writer, literary critic and professor

Sir John Frank Kermode, FBA was a British literary critic best known for his 1967 work The Sense of an Ending: Studies in the Theory of Fiction and for his extensive book-reviewing and editing.

Denis Donoghue is an Irish literary critic. He is the Henry James Chair of English and American Letters at New York University.

Nationality words link to articles with information on the nation's poetry or literature.

Michael Warner

Michael David Warner is an American literary critic, social theorist, and Seymour H. Knox Professor of English Literature and American Studies at Yale University. He also writes for Artforum, The Nation, The Advocate, and The Village Voice. He is the author of Publics and Counterpublics, The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life, The English Literatures of America, 1500–1800, Fear of a Queer Planet, and The Letters of the Republic. He edited The Portable Walt Whitman and American Sermons: The Pilgrims to Martin Luther King, Jr.

Events from the year 1870 in the United Kingdom.

<i>The Good Terrorist</i> 1985 political novel by Doris Lessing

The Good Terrorist is a 1985 political novel written by the British novelist Doris Lessing. The book's protagonist is the naïve drifter Alice, who squats with a group of radicals in London and is drawn into their terrorist activities.

Translation Communication of the meaning of a source language text by means of an equivalent target language text

Translation is the communication of the meaning of a source language text by means of an equivalent target language text. The English language draws a terminological distinction between translating and interpreting ; under this distinction, translation can begin only after the appearance of writing within a language community.

J. D. Salinger American writer

Jerome David Salinger was an American writer best known for his novel The Catcher in the Rye.

Literature Written work of art

Literature broadly is any collection of written work, but it is also used more narrowly for writings specifically considered to be an art form, especially prose fiction, drama, and poetry. In recent centuries, the definition has expanded to include oral literature, much of which has been transcribed. Literature is a method of recording, preserving, and transmitting knowledge and entertainment.

Mitrush Kuteli

Mitrush Kuteli, born Dhimitër Pasko was a well-known Albanian writer, literary critic and translator. Along with Ernest Koliqi he is considered as the founder of modern Albanian prose; in Albanian literature his pen name for which he gained fame was Mitrush Kuteli.

<i>The Sense of Style</i>

The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century is a 2014 English style guide written by cognitive scientist, linguist and popular science author Steven Pinker. Building upon earlier guides, such as Strunk & White's The Elements of Style and Fowler's A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, it applies science to the process of writing, and explains its prescriptions by citing studies in related fields – e.g., grammatical phenomena, mental dynamics, and memory load – as well as history and criticism, to "distinguish the rules that enhance clarity, grace, and emotional resonance from those that are based on myths and misunderstandings".

Sergeant Lamb novels

Sergeant Lamb of the Ninth and Proceed, Sergeant Lamb are two historical novels by Robert Graves, published in 1940 and 1941 respectively. They relate the experiences of Roger Lamb as a British soldier in the American Revolutionary War, and are based on the actual Roger Lamb's autobiographical works.

Alan Hodge was an English historian and journalist. He was a member of the circle of writers and artists that centred on Laura Riding and Robert Graves in the late 1930s, and later collaborated with Graves on The Long Week-End, a social history of Britain between the wars, and The Reader Over Your Shoulder, a guide to writing English prose. After the Second World War he worked as the general editor of Hamish Hamilton's Novel Library, as an editorial assistant on Winston Churchill's History of the English-Speaking Peoples, and as a founding co-editor of the successful magazine History Today.

References

  1. Graves 1982, p. 270.
  2. Seymour 1995, pp. 284–286.
  3. 1 2 3 Seymour 1995, p. 299.
  4. Graves 1998, pp. 19–20.
  5. Graves, William (2001). Wild Olives. London: Pimlico. p. viii. ISBN   0712601163 . Retrieved 14 February 2018.
  6. Donoghue 1989, p. 27.
  7. Graves 1998, pp. 42, 45.
  8. Graves 1982, p. 296.
  9. Graves 1998, pp. 24, 36.
  10. Higginson, Fred H. (1966). A Bibliography of the Works of Robert Graves. Hamden, CT: Archon. pp. 92–95. Retrieved 14 November 2020.
  11. Donoghue 1989, p. 28.
  12. 1 2 James & Brown 1944, p. 322.
  13. Munson, Gorham (1944). "Review of The Reader Over Your Shoulder". The Atlantic Monthly. 173: 125. Retrieved 14 February 2018.
  14. Bryant, Donald C. (1944). "Review of The Reader Over Your Shoulder". Quarterly Journal of Speech. 30 (3): 354.
  15. "Review of The Reader Over Your Shoulder". The Spectator. 171: 182. 1943. Retrieved 14 February 2018.
  16. Gallagher, Donat, ed. (1983). The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh. London: Methuen. pp. 275–277. ISBN   0413503704 . Retrieved 14 February 2018.
  17. Mills, C. Wright (2000) [1959]. The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press. p.  219. ISBN   9780195133738 . Retrieved 14 February 2018.
  18. Myers, Greg (1996). "Strategic Vagueness in Academic Writing". In Ventola, Eija; Mauranen, Anna (eds.). Academic Writing: Intercultural and Textual Issues. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. p. 4. ISBN   9027250537 . Retrieved 14 February 2018.
  19. Halperin, Mark (March 1997). "A War That Never Ends". The Atlantic Monthly. 279 (3): 22.
  20. Donoghue 1989, pp. 27–30.

Sources