THE LONGEST SENTENCE IN LITERATURE AND TRYING TO WRITE ONE

File:Legros - Victor Hugo.jpg

In “Les Miserables,” Victor Hugo wrote an 800+ word sentence, which some consider the longest written statement in literature and others think an exercise in verbosity. Of course, the book is translated from French, so that might have something to do with flow and readability. Either way, that is a very long sentence — a 12-point Times New Roman font makes it a five-page grammatical unit.

In the book I’m currently reading, I came across a page-long sentence (about two hundred words) that felt perfectly readable and the opposite of verbose, so I thought I’d try writing such a sentence, although perhaps not as long. For fun … let me know what you think.   

 When we reach Meadow Hill — the sheer massiveness of the mountain in front of us — just before the sun sets and the sky remains slightly illuminated, during this, our fourth and final day of vacation, and realize we are too tired to run up in the same way we did every day around this time to watch the last of the sunset and say goodbye to the river and the mountain and all the beauty before us, we sit on the narrow road, barely one lane wide, niches blasted in the rock, and watch from there with sadness in our hearts.

Only 103 words and probably a bit shaky. I am open to examples and/or critiques. Trust me, I’ve been part of a critique group for years, I can take it.

And as an aside, what do you think: are page-long sentences (when written correctly) an exercise in wasted words or a lost art?

_______

Photo credit: Legros — Victor Hugo, from Wikimedia Commons. In public domain, copyright expired.

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25 responses to “THE LONGEST SENTENCE IN LITERATURE AND TRYING TO WRITE ONE

  1. 800 plus words? holy moly. I think I practised a one sentence long essay art back in school…my german teacher frowned dupon it, probably because it wasn’t readable.
    I liked your sentence…then again I know nothing about writing.

  2. I would have to say it is a lost art. I was so caught up in the imagery in my head that I didn’t realize til I was done, how long it is. Keep up the good work!

  3. Yikes! I read Les Miserable when I was a kid and loved it. It read so smoothly I guess I didn’t realize there were any sentences that long. Now I enjoy the movie with Liam Neeson (watched it last night), so I don’t have to carry that cumbersome tome around. Yes, Silvya, it’s definitely a lost art, and I thing you should keep painting lovely word pictures!

  4. I’m a little embarrassed to say I’ve never heard of this before…never read Les Mis, though I saw the Broadway show, traveling version a few years ago. Thought it was OK. Planning on watching the new version sometime when life isn’t quite as insanely busy..
    Your sentence was great. If you hadn’t told me, I wouldn’t have noticed it was just one. Flowed very nicely!
    Tina @ Life is Good

  5. Good grief (to quote Charlie Brown)! 800 words? Run on sentences, which I believe is what my HS English teacher called them, are the bane of my existence, mainly because I get breathless trying to get to the end of them while figuring out how the information in the sentence is grouped. Okay, so that last sentence was 44 words. I think I view a sentence in terms of what information I want to the reader to get, and in this world of texting and tweeting, the nuggets need to be shorter rather than longer. Just a thought,

    • Noelle, I love how your response is a 44-words sentence. But you’re right about run on sentences … they are a mess. Some can be very long, though, without being run ons, I think.

  6. Maybe it is because we live in an age of short attention spans, but I think the art of long sentences is lost. 800 words long? Cannot imagine that! Susan Kane

  7. Funny you should write this. I just recently stopped reading Les Miserable. I only get small bits of time to read, and those long sentences just can’t be read in small bits. Someday, when the kids are older, I may be able to try again.

  8. I like to alter the flow of my writing between shorter and longer sentences, but haven’t attempted anything like 800 words! I think it’s easy to get a little lost when reading too long a sentence in a novel, and for me it probably is a lost art.

  9. this is an interesting challenge as a writer. Although I think to make a really, really long sentence you should employ the mighty semi-colon. That’ll do the trick.

  10. In our time of short attention spans, I think it’s a mistake. Your sentence is lovely, however.

  11. I had a really long sentence – not quite as long as yours though – in one of my chapters I subbed to IWW. One of the members commented that when he saw the length he spent considerable time trying to cut it down or break it in two before deciding it worked best the way I had it. I was thrilled.

    It’s exciting to break a literary rule properly, isn’t it?

  12. Wow, I thought my sentences were long when they took up a paragraph! I can’t imagine a page long sentence, much less a five page sentence!

  13. It’s awesome that what you wrote didn’t feel like it was dragging.

    I find any ‘playing around with words’ very interesting and definitely an art, but as a rule for good writing I think it’s important not to make sentences too long. Classics usually contain very long sentences, sometimes a paragraph that goes on for more than a page. I guess it has its own beauty for being the style of that time but I prefer the modern way of varying sentence-lengths to grab attention. Maybe I am being biased to my times!

  14. I’m turned off by those long sentences. There’s one in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. I think it’s 2 or 3 pages long and it exhausted me.

  15. I love your sentence. My sentences tend to be too short (Word is always telling me Fragment, Consider Revising). You’ve inspired me to try something a bit longer and more descriptive.

  16. Maybe because of my age (47) I didn’t think your sentence was all that long. I understand that in today’s world the attention span has changed, not saying that is bad or good, just changed. Your sentence totally brought me to the moment, I got the feeling and the image, ‘too tuckered out and yet wanting to still enjoy the beauty and moment,especially the same way you enjoyed it at the beginning of your vacation.’

I welcome your thoughts.

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