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Prof. Brooks Landon, U. Iowa, Ph.D. U. Texas at Austin. Building Great Sentences: How to Write the Kinds of Sentences You Love to Read (Great Courses) (2013). pp 16-17.

     I like Faulkner as well as I like Hemingway, and I’d like to believe that even William Strunk and certainly E. B. White would not have tried to edit Faulkner out of existence. When Hemingway writes “He disliked bars and bodegas,” speaking of an old waiter in “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place,” few of us would argue that his sentence is not simple and direct or that it is cluttered with needless words. But when Faulkner writes about the boy who’s the protagonist in “Barn Burning” it’s hard to see how Strunk and White’s admonition might apply:

The boy, crouched on his nail keg at the back of the crowded room, knew he smelled cheese, and more:[.] from [From] where he sat he could see the ranked shelves close-packed with the solid, squat, dynamic shapes of tin cans whose labels his stomach read, not from the lettering which meant nothing to his mind but from the scarlet devils and the silver curve of fish— [.] this [This], the cheese which he knew he smelled and the hermetic meat which his intestines believed he smelled coming in intermittent gusts momentary and brief between the other constant one, the smell and sense just a little of fear because mostly of despair and grief, the old fierce pull of the blood.

    Simple and direct it most certainly is not. Both writers, Faulkner and Hemingway, introduce us to the thinking of their characters, but just as the thinking of Hemingway’s old waiter is infinitely more tired and less active than the thinking of Faulkner’s boy, the sentence each writer constructs is intended to hit us in very different ways for very different reasons. Start cutting out words and simplifying the syntax in Faulkner’s sentence and we’ll miss the complex thinking that haunts the boy throughout the story.

Why didn’t Faulkner split the sentence overhead into three, by substituting a period for the:

  1. colon (in the second line)?

  2. dash (in the fifth last line)?

I emboldened these edits. Shorter sentences still feel more readable to me.

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Brooks Landon has already provided the explanation in the final paragraph that you've quoted:

just as the thinking of Hemingway’s old waiter is infinitely more tired and less active than the thinking of Faulkner’s boy, the sentence each writer constructs is intended to hit us in very different ways for very different reasons. Start cutting out words and simplifying the syntax in Faulkner’s sentence and we’ll miss the complex thinking that haunts the boy throughout the story.

You could say that while Hemingway gives the reader a crystal-sharp impression, Faulkner takes us on a journey. His marvellous sentence - best experienced by reading it aloud, slowly, dramatically (oh, to hear Richard Burton orate this!) - deliberately meanders, as if following the boy's shifting attention on the smells, the tins, the emotion in the courtroom. It's not quite a stream of consciousness, yet we get a strong sense of the experiential flow, as exemplified by the remaining words in that paragraph:

He could not see the table where the Justice sat and before which his father and his father’s enemy (our enemy he thought in that despair; ourn! mine and hisn both! He’s my father!) stood, but he could hear them, the two of them that is, because his father had said no word yet.

If you've read any Faulkner at all, you'd understand that he is writing for art's sake, not for the reader's simple comforts. He didn't split this long sentence into bite-sized chunks because doing so would deprive him (and us) of the effect he wanted to achieve. Which is exactly the point Brooks Landon makes in the paragraph you've quoted.

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