by Amanda Weiss
I am always in awe of authors who can write evocative descriptions, and even more so when they can avoid the pitfalls of "purple prose" (writing in an overblown or gratuitous way). Here are three clips by my favorite prose writers.
1. Angela Carter's introduction to her short story, "The Bloody Chamber," is the literary equivalent of rich chocolate ganache. But her word choice also serves a function: it highlights the dramatic inner turmoil of the narrator, a sheltered young woman who is romanticizing a major change:
“I remember how, that night, I lay awake in the wagon-lit in a tender, delicious ecstasy of excitement, my burning cheek pressed against the impeccable linen of the pillow and the pounding of my heart mimicking that of the great pistons ceaselessly thrusting the train that bore me through the night, away from Paris, away from girlhood, away from the white, enclosed quietude of my mother’s apartment, into the unguessable country of marriage” (The Bloody Chamber, p.1)
2. Gretel Ehrlich is another writer who excels at descriptive writing. Famous for her vibrant observations of nature, here is a clip from her essay "This Autumn Morning" (and one of my favorite quotes):
“Wasn’t it only last week, in August, that I saw the stained glass of a monarch butterfly clasping a purple thistle flower, then rising as if a whole cathedral had taken flight?” (Best American Essays 1991, p. 51)
3. And perhaps the queen of descriptive prose is Marilynne Robinson, whose Housekeeping (1980) continually surprises with its mixture of astute observation and breathtaking writing. While I am not always certain that I fully understand her thoughts on philosophy and religion, her words move me to try: