Cake Peddler War Europe

Another slight variation on the litany technique is the use of paired words or phrases. Jan Morris made very effective use of this technique near the opening to her essay "Not So Far: A European Journey" collected in Journeys:

Mrs. Thatcher's Britain is an uneasy kingdom, a kingdom of anomalies. It is poor but it is rich. It is weak but it is resilient. It is very clever in some ways, thick as mutton in others. It wins more Nobel Prizes per capita [sic] than any other nation, yet it can hardly keep its head above bankruptcy. It is socially at loggerheads with itself, but it is united in a sentimental passion for the charade of monarchy.

Even the sensations of a motorway drive like ours are muddled and puzzling, as we pass out of the poor wild mountains of Wales, where there are far more sheep than humans, so swiftly into the most thickly populated and intensely developed landscape in Europe.

John McPhee, again in his North of the C.P. Line, used a litany, but this time he repeated a two-word sentence for its rhythm. Flying Warden John McPhee is taking an airborne census of how many fishermen are fishing with and without a shack on the ice:

Party of five on Second Musquacook Lake. No shack. Party of five on Clear Lake. No shack. No shack. No shack. Party of two on Big Eagle Lake. No shack.

Lest we think that this technique of litany began recently with writers of creative nonfiction, here is a paragraph from Francois Rabelais's The Cake-Peddlers' War. The excerpt comes from a section titled "Why It Is Monks Are Shunned by Everybody, and Why It Is That Some Have Longer Noses Than Others."

Similarly, a monk—I mean the lazy ones—does not labor, like the peasant; he does not guard the country like the soldier; he does not cure the sick like the doctor; he does not preach to nor teach the world like a good evangelic doctor and pedagogue; he does not bring in commodities and public necessities like the merchant. And that is the reason why they are all jeered at and abhorred.

The French satirist and humorist wrote that litany back in the 1500s.

0 0

Post a comment