The Literary Sketch

The literary sketch was very popular with Victorian readers. Today, however, the form has largely disappeared. I suppose our dislike, as readers, for long narrative passages is primarily the reason. We seem to crave action and dialogue. Perhaps our shortening attention spans are also part of the problem. In this era of Tweets and sound bites, a page of descriptive prose is too much for us to digest. Perhaps.

Yet we also live in an age where we’re encouraged to be in touch with our feelings, where the more reserved amongst us are pejoratively characterized as being robots or ice maidens. In such an era as this, one would think the sketch, with its appeal to emotion, would be back in vogue. Sadly, though, it is not.

The sketch isn’t just an emotive piece, for it appeals to all of the senses. In that sense it is a sensual piece of writing and by appealing to the senses, it moves one subtly. And the nice thing about the sketch is that it is not a propaganda piece. It’s point is not to persuade, but to enlighten. Although an author can certainly shade one’s feelings and sensibilities into certain directions. By means of the sketch, we see a scene through the narrator, as it were. The narrator’s senses become our own.

I’ve been fond of the sketch as a form of entertainment for many years now. To hopefully whet your appetite for the form, you may find “A fluttering on the floor” a perfect introduction to the form. I know I loved it the moment I read it.

There are many collections of sketches and since they’re generally no longer under copyright, you can obtain them for free. Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Sketches from Memory is well worth reading and may be obtained for free from Project Gutenberg. Anthony Trollope’s Traveling Sketches and Hunting Sketches are also available for free from Project Gutenberg and are fine examples of the form.

As one reader to another, I encourage you to give the sketch a try. It’s something old, yet it fits very well with our graphics oriented culture. For a good sketch is a picture in words.

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