D.J.Taylor Cites Waugh to Rebut Fears of E-Book Threat to Novel

In a recent Independent on Sunday column (“Ebook apartheid: Fay Weldon calls on writers to adapt their style for technology,” 8 March 2015), critic and novelist D.J. Taylor addresses an argument by fellow novelist Fay Weldon. At the Bath Literary Festival, Weldon urged that writers need to “dumb down” their product to reach the ever increasing percentage of the reading audience that prefers e-books to print versions. Taylor notes similar past concerns about the impact of technological innovation on writing styles:

It was Evelyn Waugh, writing more than half-a-century ago, who noted the existence of a link between the words on the page and the implement that transmits them. To a certain extent, the rolling periods of the Augustan satirists are a result of their being written with a quill pen, each sub-clause marked by a dip in the ink-well. Similarly, the boiled down, staccato prose pioneered by Ernest Hemingway in the 1920s is intimately linked to his habit of composing straight onto the typewriter – an act which, according to Waugh, makes you write like a Gatling gun.

While Taylor does not cite the source of Waugh’s analysis, it may be his own interpretation of Waugh’s 1955  essay “Literary Style in England and America” (Essays, Articles and Reviews, p. 479), although I can’t find any reference in that essay to Gatling guns or typewriters. In any event, the styles of both Waugh and Hemingway survived, and Taylor is confident that the serious or literary novel will survive the e-book as surely as it did the typewriter and that writers need not and should not adapt their style to the new format. Oddly, he does not include in his comments what motivated his own recent decision to publish his latest novel (or novella) exclusively as an e-book (From the Heart, Amazon Digital Services, Inc., 2014, 121 pp., $2.99).


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