Monday, June 30, 2008

Dialect in Novels


The Time Coming When Good English Will Be Written.

There are indications — not very marked as yet, but still indications — that the day of the dialect versifier and story teller is waning. The literary epidemic for which he is responsible has raged with unabated virulence in this country for the past ten years or more. But all epidemics exhaust themselves in time, and we are encouraged to believe that this one is nearly spent. A tabulation of the contents of our popular magazines would now, we think, show a smaller proportion of pages unreadable for their bad spelling than would have been disclosed by a similar investigation made two years ago. Many a literary worker is beginning to suspect that to misspell as many words as possible is not exactly the noblest of ambitions. We by no means anticipate the complete disappearance of the dialect element from our imaginative literature, nor would such a reaction be desirable. But we do expect the time to come when dialect shall occupy its proper place in composition and be treated as a means rather than as an end. There is an important distinction between the story written for the sake of dialect and the use of dialect for the sake of the story. The latter practice is as excusable or even praiseworthy as the former is reprehensible.

When used with discrimination and artistic restraint, dialect is, of course, an admissible element in both poetry and fiction. English literature would be far the poorer without the treasures of Scotch dialect preserved in the poems of Burns and the novels of the author of "Waverley." Likewise we could ill spare the work of the Provencal poets from the literature of France, of Goldoni's Venetian comedies from that of Italy or of Reuter's Plattdeutsch tales from that of Germany. Even in our country a similar plea may be made for the language of Hosea Biglow, or of Mr. Cable's creoles, or of Miss Murfree's Tennessee mountaineers. But the swarm of commonplace and uninspired scribblers of dialect that have descended upon our periodical press during the past decade need not hope to find a safe refuge in the shadow of such really significant names as have been cited. Their pretensions are too utterly without warrant and their productions too entirely without justification. — Chicago Dial.

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