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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). p. 124 Bottom – p. 125 Top.

        Listen to the striking opening sentence of Joseph Conrad’s story “The Secret Sharer”:

On my right hand there were lines of fishing stakes[,] resembling a mysterious system of half-submerged bamboo fences, incomprehensible in its division of the domain of tropical fishes, and crazy of aspect[,] as if abandoned forever by some nomad tribe of fishermen[,] now gone to the other end of the ocean; for there was no sign of human habitation as far as the eye could reach.

I’ve slightly repunctuated this sentence to emphasize its cumulative rhythms [I emboldened], but I cite it here to note how it is only when we get to the simile “as if abandoned forever by some nomad tribe of fishermen” that we fully understand the extent to which Conrad’s narrator has a very active imagination and loves to use it to make stories out of what he sees. In other words, while mastery of coordinate, subordinate, and mixed cumulative forms is an important goal and may tell us a lot about a writer’s syntactic skill and versatility, it doesn’t do much to distinguish the skill and versatility of one writer who writes great cumulative sentences from the skill and versatility of another writer who also can write great cumulative sentences. However, the similes these two writers will think of, the comparisons they will make, will almost certainly be different, each writer drawing from different knowledge, different experiences, and revealing different interests.

  1. What are the 'cumulative rhythms' here?

  2. How did Landon decide where to re-punctuate the sentence? To wit, how did he decide the beginnings and ends of each of the “cumulative rhythms”?

I phoned Landon, but he replied that he doesn't have time to answer my questions.

  • Did you even look up what cumulative means? Because I don't see how you can have one cumulative rhythm. – Peter Shor Feb 2 at 17:54
  • @PeterShor Landon first moots "cumulative sentences" on p. 53, but he never defines it. – Chrome Feb 2 at 20:29
  • You could always Google it. – Peter Shor Feb 2 at 20:49
  • And how did Landon decide where to re-punctuate the sentence? He is putting a comma after each subordinate clause—look at the definition of a cumulative sentence. – Peter Shor Feb 2 at 20:56

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