Friday, March 4, 2011

Elegance - A Friday Challenge

Today I want us to ponder elegance. When you think of the word what or likely who, springs to mind?
I think Audrey Hepburn, hands pouring tea from a silver teapot, a set of candlesticks I once saw, a photo of a bridge in France, and the theories of how humans communicate from Eric Berne. I think of The Quiet American by Graham Greene, The Brown Hotel in Denver, Colorado, the Queen's face as she listens to an old sailor down at the waterfront.

When I look up the word in my trusty American Heritage Dictionary this is what I get:
el·e·gance (l-gns)

n.1. a. Refinement, grace, and beauty in movement, appearance, or manners.
       b. Tasteful opulence in form, decoration, or presentation.

2. a. Restraint and grace of style.
    b. Scientific exactness and precision.
and in the Merriam the following:

2.elegance - a quality of neatness and ingenious simplicity in the solution of a problem (especially in science or mathematics); "the simplicity and elegance of his invention"

And here is a quote about Channing's symphony that resonates with me:

"To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common - this is my symphony."
Willian Henry Channing
It is elusive, this idea of elegance. As I scroll through various meanings certain words pop up - restraint, economy, simplicity and surprisingly in many quotes - 'refusal'. I would like to do an entire edit of my manuscript with that notion in the foremost of my mind. Refusal to use several words when one will do - refusal of the rococo, of the layering on of several meanings on the back of one poor thin theme; a hard look at which words, characters, ideas offer a simple elegant solution to the needs of my novel.

If I look at it as if I were helping a young woman dress for a special occasion I might be able to get it. Let the natural beauty of the thing be allowed to glow - not the garish make-up used when we think the receiver won't see what is there unless we paint it up, underline it several times and deliver it covered in bling and baubles.

Tell me what comes to your mind when you contemplate elegance.


Tundiel said...

I think your last paragraph about helping a young woman to get ready sums it up perfectly. Elegance to m is understated beauty.

Margot Kinberg said...

Jan - I love that word! Like Tundiel, elegance means understated to me. It also means graceful and well-suited (as in, an elegant outfit is well-suited to its wearer, or an elegant house is well-suited to its surroundings).

Hart Johnson said...

I'd go along with all that. When I think of elegance, I think of somebody like Sophia Lauren. And I ADORE elegant solutions... one thing that neatly ties up SEVERAL problems. That is one of my favorite things to find in fiction... to suddenly realize all these strands tie together and have a common explanation. Very hard to write though. I am also a fan of elegant word choice... one, precisely RIGHT word instead of a paragraph. (particularly when it comes to description... I'm not a fan of extensive description, but I LOVE finding something brief and unexpected that perfectly sums it up.

As for me... alas... elegance is probably not something I will ever achieve... I like the sparkles and flash... elegance doesn't suit my personality.

Faith Pray said...

I like this idea of keeping my writing elegant. My grandmother was elegant. She smelled of lemons and wore long, ethnic dresses smudged with clay. Her earlobes hung down with heavy turquoise jewelry and she grew kumquat and gardenias. She painted everything gold, and could put on her finest Scots accent at the drop of a hat. Does the world even do "elegance" anymore? I am going to put on new eyes when I look at my work, and think elegantly.

Words A Day said...

Elegance, its not a word I've pondered yet! Now that I think about its not one I've heard used in brings to mind something spare, with grace, minimalist... a lone tulip, old hands being kind, the heel of my grandmothers patent shoes...a pearl.

Thanks for the friday challenge - its made me feel thoughtful, and I just made it in one elegant minute to midnight!

Stacy Post said...

Elegance is a tough quality to describe sometimes, at least for me. I think of women with excellent posture, who may have been childhood ballerinas. (I admire that a lot because I'm terribly clumsy!) I'm going to have to spend some time contemplating elegance. I realize now that I don't include it much in my characterizations. Must change that. Great post!