“I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect. Keeping originality always in view-for he is false to himself who ventures to dispense with so obvious and so easily attainable a source of interest-I say to myself, in the first place, ‘Of the innumerable effects, or impressions, of which the heart, the intellect or (more generally) the soul is susceptible, what one shall I say, on the present occasion select?’ “
The sentence above is from Poe’s essay “The Philosophy of Composition.” To be fair it begins a paragraph early in the essay, so, in a real sense, it is taken out of context. It is directed, I am sure, not to the common reader, but to the intelligentsia. So let me quote from a short story in the next paragraph. It is the opening paragraph from “Morella.”
“With a feeling of deep yet most singular affection I regarded my friend Morella. Thrown by accident into her society many years ago, my soul, from our first meeting, burned with fires it had never before known; but the fires were not of Eros, and bitter and tormenting to my spirit was the gradual conviction that I could in no manner define their unusual meaning, or regulate their vague intensity.”
Keeping in mind that I read Poe in junior high and in college, and is one of my favorite writers, I ask, if whether he could get published today.
I ask because in the first example about composition, the sentence is awkward, requiring a better mind than mine to determine precisely what he is writing about. I have to read it three times before I get the gest of the meaning. Which is preferred- to read with swiftness, understanding each sentence, each paragraph, absorbing every point with ease, or to go over the same sentence over and over.
In the second example cited from Poe’s short story, would not an agent or editor say to the writer change ‘burned with desire’ along with ‘the fires were not of Eros’ for being antiquated.
And that is the point, writers today do not write like Poe, like Dickens, like Melville. Styles have, culture has changed, art has changed. Movies had a lot to do with how writers have changed. Writers began to write not with intellectual thoughts, but by seeing the story played out like a movie. Writing began reflecting the editing structure of movies. Movies told stories faster, and over time writers began to do the same.
Today it is more along the lines of ‘keep it simple stupid.’ Keep the story moving, don’t get bogged won with too many words. I still read Poe and other writers of yore, but I question if Poe were a young man today his style would get him published. Quoth the raven, nevermore!