E. B. White’s “Plain Style” @75

Jan Mieszkowski at Public Books:

“No one,” declared James Thurber, “can write a sentence like E. B. White.” Throughout his six-decade career, White was widely celebrated for his mastery of “the plain style.” His columns and anecdotes for the New Yorker, his longer essays, and his immensely popular trio of children’s books (Charlotte’s WebStuart Little, The Trumpet of the Swan) were invariably praised for their clarity and unadorned directness, not to mention their pithy gestures of tasteful irreverence.

In addition to being an acclaimed essayist and children’s author, White had the curious fate to have written the book on how to write, or at least part of it, when he updated and expanded a pamphlet his former teacher William Strunk Jr. had created for his students at Cornell. The result was the most successful composition guide of all time. The Elements of Style—“Strunk and White”—has sold more than 10 million copies and is still a staple of higher-education syllabuses, although it is assigned far more often than it is read.

It might seem self-evident that White the author practiced what Strunk and White the style gurus preached, but the truth is more complicated.

More here.

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