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Old Tuesday, May 31, 2005
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Post Bertrand Russell: Prose Style

Bertrand Russell is one of the greatest masters of English Prose. He revolutionized not only the subject matter but also the mode of expression. He has in him a happy blend of greatest philosopher and a great writer. He was awarded Nobel Prize for literature in 1950. The subject matter of his essays may be very difficult but his manner of expression is so lucid and simple that even a layman can understand him without any special difficulty. It is a rare privilege which only few prose masters enjoy. The precision and clarity which Russell’s prose style possesses are very rare in the bulk of English prose.

Russell has justly been regarded as one of the great prose stylists of the 20th century. Although he is not a literary writer yet his work devoted mainly to problems of philosophy, ethics, morality, political, social life and economics, etc. impresses us greatly by its literary qualities.

Of course, Russell's style sometimes becomes difficult for the average reader who comes across sentences which he has read for more than once in order to get the meaning. Russell’s style appeals mainly to our intellects and very little to our feelings or emotions. He uses words simply as tools, to convey his meaning plain and effective and not to produce any special effects. It is not a coloured or gorgeous style. Nor is there any passion in it. It is somewhat cold.

There are no “jeweled phrases” in his writings nor sentences over which we would like to linger with the aesthetic pleasure. Russell’s style is intellectually brilliant. He can condense an idea or a thought in a few words if he so desires. Russell is always direct, simple and lucid. He knows that the complexity of expression leads to ambiguity. Nothing can be more lucid than such opening lines:

“Happiness depends partly upon external circumstances and partly upon oneself.”

“Of all the institutions that have come down to us from the past, none is so disorganized and derailed as the family.”

Russell’s sentences clearly show Bacon’s terseness. They are replete with so deep thoughts like those of Bacon that we may elaborate them in countless pages. Many sentences are like proverbs, replete with deep meanings like:

“Extreme hopes are born of extreme misery.”

“One of the most powerful sources of false belief is envy.”

“Pride of a race is even more harmful than national pride.”

Russell’s quotations from the Bible, Shakespeare, Roman and Greek writers are harmoniously woven into the texture of his thoughts. The Biblical phrases and quotations lend sublimity to his prose and make his style scholarly. Russell manipulates such allusiveness in order to make his ironical onslaughts more effective.

Irony is a principal instrument of his style. He ironizes the so-called modern minded people. Russell makes frequent uses of wit and humour but his humour is generally not pure fun or frolic.

Russell writes chaste prose and there is a rationalistic approach to life. As a deep thinker and a man with scientific mood, he has infused into his style a new depth and a stream-like continuity and clarity.

His chief concern is to convey his ideas to his readers. That is why his prose style exhibits his balanced personality. ‘Style is the man’ applies to him more logically.

Russell makes long sentences to pour out his feelings with a poetic flash. He thinks deeply and expresses the matter in a logical manner. The sentence is definitely long but the main link of the thought is not broken anywhere. All subordinate clause move towards the main clause with the definite aim of making the sense more clear. No part of the syntax is loose.

Russell does not use metaphors and similes frequently. To him, they are the matter of necessity. These are to be used only when there is a dire necessity of using them. Russell makes a great use of the art of rhetoric to emphasize his point. He does not make his rhetoric pompous and exaggerated.

Bertrand Russell always argues his case in a strictly logical manner and his aim always is exactitude or precision. As far as possible, he never leaves the reader in any doubt about what he has to say. He stresses the need of rationality, which he calls scepticism in all sphere of life.

Each essay is logically well knit and self-contained. In each essay the development of the thought is continuous and strictly logical, with a close interconnection between one paragraph and another. It is a style best suited to an advocate. There are no superfluities in his style at all.

To conclude, Russell is one of the great prose writers of the last century, who wrote an almost all kinds of varied subjects with great force and confidence. The unity of his thoughts goes hand in hand with the unity of his style.
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