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Did You Know: Literature's Longest Sentences

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The old saying goes that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover…but what about by the length of its sentences?

Published in 1964, Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age by Czech author Bohumil Hrabal is a 117- page run-on sentence. 

You read that right – there is no punctuation, no chapters, no breaks. One continuous sentence makes up the entire novel!

Confusing and dense to some and yet artistic and innovative to others, run-on sentences and one-sentence novels offer readers a new literary perspective and open up an interesting discussion – are these writers geniuses or goofs?

“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.” - William Faulkner

Extraordinarily long sentences aren’t a new development. 

Take James Joyce’s Ulysses for example! Published in 1922, Ulysses ends with a soliloquy that stretches for 36 pages with a grand total of 4,391 words. Probably the first time any reader had seen such a chunk of text, James Joyce may have unknowingly paved the way for future long-sentence seekers, setting the bar quite high with his magnificent work.

Currently, Jonathan Coe boasts the title of Guinness World Records "Longest Sentence in Literature" with a whopping 13,955-word sentence in his 2001 novel, The Rotter’s Club. Coe has stated that he was inspired by Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age.

                                                   The Rotters' Club

Many might tell you that it is, in fact, Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables which includes the longest printed sentence in literature. While it does clock in at an impressive 823 words, Hugo’s run-on is actually one of the shorter sentences out there!

William Faulkner was awarded the title of "Longest Sentence in Literature" by Guinness World Records in 1983 for his 1,288-word sentence in Absalom, Absalom! 

Jerzy Andrzejewski, a Polish author whose 1960 novel The Gates of Paradise, a 158-page run-on which was the predecessor to Hrabal’s Dancing Lessons. This crafty novelist used colons and dashes to try and carve some breathing room into his wordy masterpiece, making for an easier read.

“It is a great privilege to make one’s living from writing sentences. The sentence is the greatest invention of civilization.” – John Banville

There are many, many more authors who have attempted writing one-sentence novels or have included run-on sentences within their works – too many to list! – but each brings something new to the table in terms of artistic expression.

So, are these writers in the right? Can a one-sentence novel truly be called a novel? Well, we think so!

What do you think?

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