On “wordy” 19thC novels

Just want to observe here, so that I can stop ranting about this in class, that “wordiness” doesn’t just mean “has long sentences,” or even, necessarily, “goes around one’s ass to get one’s elbow.” Or, at least it doesn’t when one’s speaking about novels.
Rather, “wordiness” names a defect in writing wherein that excess of words has no point.  If a sentence is verbose, but there’s a conceptual or aesthetic payoff from all those words–then you can’t really complain that it’s “wordy.”  You can object to the payoff, and certainly you can observe that the game isn’t worth the candle, but you can’t dismiss the style as “wordy.”  (By these lights, for example, I would not consider Dickens or Eliot to be “wordy.”)

When professors object to wordiness in student papers–and when good readers object to wordiness in academic writing–the complaint isn’t just that there are a lot of words, but rather that the words are empty where they should be full.

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