The Semi-colon Rule (or Really, Virginia?)

Tip-toeing to the living room at 3:55 a.m. with reading materials in-hand: People magazine and Mrs. Dalloway.  Jennifer Lopez and Virginia Woolf.  Fluff & fancy and fluff & fancy.  (Hmm, I practiced Venn diagrams with Liam yesterday.  The vision of JLO’s and Virginia’s circles somehow intersecting?  Wow.) I picked up People first: a cover-to-cover 45-minute read.  Then, I opened Mrs. Dalloway and, on page one, butted heads with the over-use of semi-colons; a different use than I taught in my Developing English classes with incoming college freshmen.

I understand the semi-colon’s use to separate complete thoughts; when you use them to connect related but separate thoughts, they can be quite effective in providing sentence variety.  Or, when there is a complicated list of items and each item is several words long, then they are helpful.

But to plop them in willy-nilly… they accost my grammarian senses at 5:00 a.m.  Wave after wave: reading of a clause or a fragment then bashed into the brick wall of a semi-colon.   I put the book down, and I remember what I told students as they grumbled with all the grammar rules: learn and master the rules before you break them.  I do it.  Love every minute of it.  My stream of conscience writing is in fragments.  Virginia’s is dotted with semi-colons.

I do hope Virginia knew the rules of semi-colon usage; it would make it easier for me to read her if I was absolutely sure she had command of the semi-colon rule and then purposely chose to manipulate it to her own writing style; I would accept that; however, I will need to better prep myself before reading page one again; I must release the ideal that semi-colons separate complete thoughts; rather accept the notion that this literary genius of the 20th century chose them to accentuate her character’s ADD.

My fragments feel right.  They reflect the 21st century’s culture of ADD; however, stream of conscious fragment-writing with the use of semi-colons… I struggle with that.  Really they aren’t that far apart – just a comma extraction and the addition of a capital letter moves the fragments from their run-on appearance to abrupt, jerky thoughts.

Next time I pick up Mrs. Dalloway, I will accept the semi-colons, and I shan't have a candy appetizer of People magazine's simple sentences beforehand.  That will help.  Most definitely.