Long Sentences in Literature

In 1983, which author was featured in the Guinness Book of World Records for the 1,288-word sentence in the novel Absalom, Absalom?

And the answer: William Faulkner.

Photo credit: lithub.com

Guinness recognized Faulkner as the English-language record holder for several years, until 2001. That's when Jonathan Coe published The Rotter's Club, and included a staggering 33-page, 13,955-word sentence.

While some fear run-on sentences, others use them to write books. Bohumil Hrabal's Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age sprawls over a hundred pages of period-free thoughts, and ends without so much as a note of finality. Meanwhile, Jerzy Andrzejewski spends 158 pages on two sentences in The Gates of Paradise (though the second sentence is a mere five words). Throughout history, authors have used unconventional forms of storytelling to bridge the gap between the page and the reader’s imagination. Of such forms of storytelling, the Long Sentence is a uniquely intimidating one.  

Though Faulkner’s record has been broken, his legacy lives on. The author once said, regarding his peculiarly long sentence:

“I’m trying to say it all in one sentence, between one Cap and one period. I’m still trying to put it all, if possible, on one pinhead.”

A story on one pinhead is no easy feat. Contestants for the longest sentence include a whopping 150,000 word sentence (the entire book, sans a few flashbacks) in Mathias Enard’s Zone and a 36-page sentence in James Joyce's Ulysses. Due to the widely varying formats of book-long-sentences, it can be difficult to determine a distinct "longest sentence," though these authors certainly give it a shot.

What do you think? Could you write the world's longest sentence? Read Faulkner’s famous sentence here.


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