July 15, 2009
Write Like It's 1856
Writing up the new Oxford Historical Thesaurus, Jason Kottke laments the lack of an advertised online version: “what a boon it would be for period novelists to able to press the ‘write like they did in 1856’ button.”
So, being a total dork, and already in love with the not-even-shipping OHT, I tweet:
I want a “write like they did in 1856” button!
Actually, not a “write like ANYBODY in 1856” button. I want a “write like Flaubert” button. (Quiz: what writer in 1856 would you choose?)
This is harder than it sounds. 1856 might have seen just about the greatest confluence of writers ever. Do you want to write like Flaubert, Baudelaire, or Hugo? Tolstoy or Dostoevsky? Melville or Whitman or Dickinson? The Rosettis, the Brownings, or George Eliot? In nonfiction, you could write like Darwin, Marx, Carlyle, Mill, Schopenhauer, Lincoln, or Emerson.
All that said, I’m sticking with Flaubert. That’s the year he finished and serialized Madame Bovary. (The next year, he went on trial for obscenity, and won, on the grounds that he wasn’t a pornographer, but a genius. This changed everything for modern literature.)
Gustave’s my guy. Who’s yours?
P.S.: On the Oxford University Press page for the historical thesaurus, it includes a link for an online version - it’s almost certainly going to be subscriber-only, and the link ends up with placeholder info for now. But it will happen.