I have to admit that I am not able to fully appreciate Lucas’ Style – The Art of Writing Well. Imagine, I lack the necessary education: in the French language, in classical English literature. And I am not the only one.
Style is not a practical guide to hone one’s English writing. It is about Writing Well in a much more general sense. It is not about how to achieve a certain effect. It is rather to show the importance of a few general principles that are likely to improve any text. Lucas summarizes these as “pursue clarity, brevity, and courtesy to readers; to be, if not gay, at least good-humoured, never to write a line without considering whether it is really true, whether you have not exaggerated your statement, or its evidence; to shun dead images, and cherish living ones; and to revise unremittingly…” There are other books than Lucas’, textbooks that will better help in putting these principles into action.
Still, Lucas also gives some practical advice. In the last chapter on the Methods of Writing he urges the writer to think but not to over-think, to revise but to know when to let go or else the text becomes too constructed, too cold. I think this is the most important lesson.
Lucas considers French a language that allows good style more easily than English (which, in turn, has the advantage over German), hence all the French, all the long French, examples to illustrate his points. I can understand the despair of the many readers who were denied a translation in the first edition 1955. These readers are mentioned in the preface to this, the third edition of Style. The translations are now provided in many, many footnotes – I would have preferred to put the English translation next to the French –; yet they cannot do justice to the original as they lack the elegance and melody of the French excerpts. Hence my feeling of a lack of proper appreciation.
Finally, there was also a moment of confirmation of a personal conviction. Endnotes en lieu of footnotes are a terrible obstacle. They are just rude. Already footnotes disrupt the reading and comprehension process. Now, with endnotes you have to flip through the pages of the book: First to find the endnote, then to find the reference to the endnote again that send you away from reading the actual text. If there are endnotes, I usually don’t bother to look at them. The author obviously does not want me to. If an author should limit his use of footnotes – sometimes they are adding to the clarity and brevity of the text and are thus beneficial – endnotes should not be used at all! Never.