Monday, August 22, 2011


“But the end of Mr. Brooke's pen was a thinking organ, evolving sentences, especially of a benevolent kind, before the rest of his mind could well overtake them.”
-- George Eliot, Middlemarch

This quote so completely captures, for me, what often happens when I’m writing, and, I imagine, when my students are writing. In the novel, Mr. Brooke sometimes sets out to write something simple and straightforward, but the writing often swerves off into generous side-sentences that weren’t part of his plan, and a similar thing seems to happen, at least occasionally, when my students and I are writing. My paragraphs have been known, now and then, to throw themselves far off my planned approach and take wing for wherever they wish. I'll start with a straightforward topic sentence, but before long some strange sentences show up and lead the words off course, something I've seen more than a few times in student essays. Often the students make a fine start, with words steering easily into sentences and then into a few fine phrases, but lo, here comes a quiet, fresh, and benevolent thought, and the essay is off on an evolutionary road of its own. What’s so fascinating (and it seems to have been so for Eliot) is that much of this meandering kind of writing has some mystery and magic in it, the kind that is frequently missing in more orderly essays. Mr. Brooke’s pen, it seems, showed the way to surprising and kindly sentences, and every so often a similar wonder works its way into the writing my students and I do.

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