A Melody of Style

May 24, 2010 | 4 comments

Dale Espy – 1928

     Recently, in a frenzy of cleaning out and reorganizing, I ran across a stack of school papers – my mother’s high school English essays from 1927.  I was interested in them because her subject was ‘Oysterville’s Beginnings’ and I wondered if there were any little nuggets of fact that I could glean.  After all, 1927 was closer to those beginnings than we are now by a good many years.  A lot could have dropped by the wayside in the interim.
     Unfortunately, I found no new or unknown information.  But I did enjoy the teacher’s remarks:
     You seem to have splendid material – and a fine sense of effects.  You can see the significant, romantic, dramatic possibilities of people, places, circumstances.   But your writing appears to be very hastily done – with no careful working for definite impressions – a dominant artistic affect – an idea – a theme motif – if you will.  You need to elaborate and emphasize and cut out; to work for imagery; to cultivate charm of phrase, melody of style.  Take infinite loving pains with your own material.
     What wonderful advice in that last paragraph.  Especially the final sentence!  But, try as she might, my mother could not come up to the teacher’s expectations. The five essays in this group, written between March 25th and May 23rd of her junior year, garnered increasingly caustic criticism and the grades dropped from Bs to Cs.  Finally, my mother wrote a note of her own:
     This history seems to have been an undertaking rather unsuited for my type of writing.  Whether it’s just me or my subject I don’t know, but I just don’t seem to be able to put myself into the thing.  I see no way of livening it up without putting a lot of fictitious stuff in that would spoil it.  I thought, however, I had made some improvement since the last two papers on this, but find instead I have made a horrible mess of the whole thing.  I have tried to do it over, but it gets stiffer and less easy to mold each time.  Perhaps I am one of these people who can only write one thing.  Because I don’t want to leave too bad an impression on you, if you don’t mind, I think I’ll just try one of my familiar essays next time.
     I’d love to know the teacher’s response to that note or to see the next essay, but there is nothing more – at least not in this bunch of papers.  I hope the teacher gave her an A for spunkiness!


  1. Rita

    If anyone deserved an A for spunkiness it was your Mother!!!

  2. Rita Nicely

    Another great concert! Thanks to you and Nyle for opening your home and making these events happen.

  3. Stephanie Frieze

    Was this an English class or history? I think your mother was right and that the teacher was too critical. What did YOU think of your mom’s essay? How would you have graded her?

  4. sydney

    Stephanie — It was an English class. I have no way of judging her essays as I don’t know what they had been working on — form? content? grammar? narrative? character develpment? Judging by my mother’s “spunky” reply to the teacher, students had been given some choice about form and subject matter, but other than that there is no indication of the specific assignment or expectations. In general, I would probably have been less generous than her teacher.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *