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Q&A

Why didn't 18-19th century Anglophone authors shorten their sentences, by starting more with Majuscules? Why lengthen them with commas, (semi)colons?

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Shorter sentences have been proven more readable. Thus why didn't the authors below sunder their lengthy sentences, prolongated by commas and (semi)colons? Why not divide them into shorter sentences that start with Majuscules? See my improvements below in bold. English ISN'T my mother tongue.

ALICE was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do : [.] [O] nce or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”

Alice in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll's first two sentences.

Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence ; and [. She] had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

She was the youngest of the two daughters of a most affectionate, indulgent father ; and [. She] had, in consequence of her sister’s marriage, been mistress of his house from a very early period. Her mother had died too long ago for her to have more than an indistinct remembrance of her caresses ; . [A]nd her [Emma's mother's] place had been supplied by an excellent woman as governess, who had fallen little short of a mother in affection.

Emma (1815) by Jane Austen’s first three sentences. Notice that Austen's subject pronouns are ambiguous between Emma or Emma's mother! Undeniably, writing the name out is clearest!

Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams ; . [F]or a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby. Quoted on March 25, 2014.

I was born in the Year 1632, in the City of York, of a good Family, tho’ not of that Country, my Father being a Foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull ; [.] He got a good Estate by Merchandise, and leaving off his Trade, lived afterward at York, from whence he had married my Mother, whose Relations were named Robinson, a very good Family in that Country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznaer ; . [B] ut by the usual Corruption of Words in England, we are now called, nay we call our selves, and write our Name Crusoe, and so my Companions always call’d me.

Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719). Quoted by Christopher Laws.

65 Long Sentences in Literature

Vladimir Nabokov, “Lolita.” 99 words.

My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three, and, save for a pocket of warmth in the darkest past, nothing of her subsists within the hollows and dells of memory, over which, if you can still stand my style (I am writing under observation), the sun of my infancy had set : . [S] urely, you all know those redolent remnants of day suspended, with the midges, about some hedge in bloom or suddenly entered and traversed by the rambler, at the bottom of a hill, in the summer dusk; a furry warmth, golden midges.

William Faulkner, “That Evening Sun.” 118 words.

The streets are paved now, and the telephone and electric companies are cutting down more and more of the shade trees–the water oaks, the maples and locusts and elms–to make room for iron poles bearing clusters of bloated and ghostly and bloodless grapes, and we have a city laundry which makes the rounds on Monday morning, gathering the bundles of clothes into bright-colored, specially-made motor cars : . [T] he soiled wearing of a whole week now flees apparitionlike behind alert and irritable electric horns, with a long diminishing noise of rubber and asphalt like tearing silk, and even the Negro women who still take in white people’s washing after the old custom, fetch and deliver it in automobiles.

Virginia Woolf, “Mrs. Dalloway.” 116 words.

It was not to them (not to Hugh, or Richard, or even to devoted Miss Brush) the liberator of the pent egotism, which is a strong martial woman, well nourished, well descended, of direct impulses, downright feelings, and little introspective power (broad and simple–why could not every one be broad and simple? she asked) feels rise within her, once youth is past, and must eject upon some object–it may be Emigration, it may be Emancipation ; . [B] but whatever it be, this object round which the essence of her soul is daily secreted, becomes inevitably prismatic, lustrous, half looking glass, half precious stone; now carefully hidden in case people should sneer at it; now proudly displayed.

Henry James, “The Golden Bowl.” 165 words.

She had got up with these last words ; . [S] s he stood there before him with that particular suggestion in her aspect to which even the long habit of their life together had not closed his sense, kept sharp, year after year, by the collation of types and signs, the comparison of fine object with fine object, of one degree of finish, of one form of the exquisite with another–the appearance of some slight, slim draped “antique” of Vatican or Capitoline halls, late and refined, rare as a note and immortal as a link, set in motion by the miraculous infusion of a modern impulse and yet, for all the sudden freedom of folds and footsteps forsaken after centuries by their pedestal, keeping still the quality, the perfect felicity, of the statue; the blurred, absent eyes, the smoothed, elegant, nameless head, the impersonal flit of a creature lost in an alien age and passing as an image in worn relief round and round a precious vase.

Jane Austen, “Emma.” 180 words.

The charming Augusta Hawkins, in addition to all the usual advantages of perfect beauty and merit, was in possession of an independent fortune, of so many thousands as would always be called ten; a point of some dignity, as well as some convenience : . [T] t he story told well ; . [H] h e had not thrown himself away — he had gained a woman of ten thousand pounds, or thereabouts ; . [A] a nd he had gained her with such delightful rapidity — the first hour of introduction had been so very soon followed by distinguishing notice; the history which he had to give Mrs. Cole of the rise and progress of the affair was so glorious — the steps so quick, from the accidental rencontre, to the dinner at Mr. Green’s, and the party at Mrs. Brown’s — smiles and blushes rising in importance — with consciousness and agitation richly scattered — the lady had been so easily impressed — so sweetly disposed — had in short, to use a most intelligible phrase, been so very ready to have him, that vanity and prudence were equally contented.

Jules Verne, “The Floating Island.” 286 words.

I have the honour to acquaint his Excellency the Governor of Floating Island, at this moment in a hundred and seven-seven degrees thirteen minutes east of the meridian of Greenwich, and in sixteen degrees fifty-four minutes south latitude, that during the night of the 31st of December and the 1st of January, the steamer Glen, of Glasgow, of three thousand five hundred tons, laden with wheat indigo, rice, and wine, a cargo of considerable value, was run into by Floating Island, belonging to the Floating Island Company, Limited, whose offices are at Madeleine Bay, Lower California, United States of America , . [A] a lthough the steamer was showing the regulation lights, a white at the foremast, green at the starboard side, and red at the port side, and that having got clear after the collision she was met with the next morning thirty-five miles from the scene of the disaster, ready to sink on account of a gap in her port side, and that she did sink after fortunately putting her captain, his officers and crew on board the Herald, Her Britannic Majesty’s cruiser of the first-class under the flag of Rear-Admiral Sir Edward Collison, who reports the fact to his Exellency Governor Cyrus Bikerstaff, requesting him to acknowledge the responsibility of the Floating Island Company, Limited, under the guarantee of the inhabitants of the said Floating Island, in favour of the owners of the said Glen, the value of which in hull, engines, and cargo amounts to the sum of twelve hundred thousand pounds sterling, that is six millions of dollars, which sum should be paid into the hands of the said Admiral Sir Edward Collinson, or in default he will forcibly proceed against the said Floating Island.”

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You're asking, in effect, why 18th and 19th century authors didn't write in a late 20th or 21st centu... (1 comment)

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