This is more or less a follow up to a question I had previously asked. Reading British writers from the last 19th century, like Bram Stoker, and the early 20th century, like Bertrand Russell, Winston Churchill, and George Orwell. They were all very economical writers.

Is there an early 20th century style guide that one could read to reference this writing style?


2 Answers 2


Since you've mostly named authors who wrote non-fiction, some of the most relevant style guides of the era are Hart's Rules and The King's English. I'm not sure whether they encouraged concise writing, but The Elements of Style certainly did. These works respectively date to 1893, 1906 and 1918, although Elements was unpublished until 1920.


Style guides, such as those mentioned in the answer by J.G., aim to improve communication. For that purpose, they advocate a language that is clear, concise, and easy to understand. They apply mostly to everyday writing such as business letters, journalism, and the like.

Literature, on the other hand, employs style not merely to communicate, but to elicit emotions and offer experiences. Literary language can be intentionally obscure or difficult. Literary language may vary its style from viewpoint character to viewpoint character or from scene to scene, to achieve different effects on the reader at different points in a narrative. For example, language in literature may become hurried when the protagonist is under pressure, ungrammatical, when she is confused, and so on. If you read Stoker's Dracula carefully, you will note a slight difference in style between the different narrators.

Literary movements, such as those of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, that you are referring to, usually defined their own styles through the poetolocigal and critical writings of the authors themselves. Essays such as Edgar Allan Poe's "The Philosophy of Composition" and "The Poetic Principle" or George Orwell's book reviews and literary criticism, collected in Collected Essays, Letters and Journalism of George Orwell, will explain the style of these writers much better than Strunk and White.

What I suggest therefore is that you find critical and poetological writings by the authors that you admire and their contemporaries. You can begin with a list of authors of the time and then look through their bibliographies for book reviews they have written, literary criticism, essays on writing, and the like. It will be more work than getting an old copy of The King's English, but I am sure you will also profit more from it.

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