Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog
I'm reading a terrific new book, Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog, by Kitty Burns Foley. It's all about the history of sentence diagramming, from its inception in 1877 in a text by Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellog, to it's height in grammar schools across the country (where she fell in love with diagramming under the tutelage of Sr. Bernadette). She diagrams famous (and not-so-famous) sentences from the writing of Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Marcel Proust, and Joyce Carol Oates, to name a few; and tells delighful literary and historical stories to go along with the diagrams, that are a good read in themselves.
I loved diagramming sentences as a kid. And I agree with her, that diagramming is a lost art — a not-so-useful art, all said and done, but an art nonetheless. She writes about a poster that existed in the 1970's of a 958-word sentence diagram from Proust's Sodome et Gomorrhe. I would love to see that. Below is a scan from the book, as an example of one of the many diagrams she includes, written in heavy black ink, as if copied from a chalkboard. This one, of the last sentence in Proust's A la Recherche, is a marvelous visual poem, don't you think? Come to think of it, I would like to diagram a poem . . . right now . . . hmm . . .