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vignette

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vignette

Rebecca Yamin, "Through Many Eyes." Reconsidering Archaeological Fieldwork, ed. by Hannah Cobb et al. (Springer, 2012)

Definition:

A verbal sketch, a brief essay, or any carefully crafted short work of prose, either fiction or nonfiction.

A vignette may be a piece that's complete in itself or one part of a larger work.


Examples of Vignettes

See also:

Etymology:

From Old French, "little vine." According to William Harmon, the term vignette is "borrowed from that used for unbordered but delicate decorative designs of a book and it implies writing with comparable grace and economy" (A Handbook to Literature, 2006).

Examples and Observations:

  • "[In his early 'casuals' for The New Yorker magazine] E.B. White focused on an unobserved tableau or vignette: a janitor polishing a fireplug with liquid from a Gordon's Gin bottle, an unemployed man idling on the street, an old drunk on the subway, noises of New York City, a fantasy drawn from elements observed from an apartment window. As he wrote to his brother Stanley, these were 'the small things of the day,' 'the trivial matters of the heart,' 'the inconsequential but near things of this living,' the 'little capsule[s] of truth' continually important as the subtext of White's writing.

    "The 'faint squeak of mortality' he listened for sounded particularly in the casuals in which White used himself as a central character. The persona varies from piece to piece, but usually the first-person narrator is someone struggling with embarrassment or confusion over trivial events."
    (Robert L. Root, Jr., E.B. White: The Emergence of an Essayist. University of Iowa Press, 1999)


  • An E.B. White Vignette
    "The strong streak of insanity in railroads, which accounts for a child's instinctive feeling for them and for a man's unashamed devotion to them, is congenital; there seems to be no reason to fear that any disturbing improvement in the railroads' condition will set in. Lying at peace but awake in a Pullman berth all one hot night recently, we followed with dreamy satisfaction the familiar symphony of the cars--the diner departing (furioso) at midnight, the long, fever-laden silences between runs, the timeless gossip of rail and wheel during the runs, the crescendos and diminuendos, the piffling poop-pooping of the diesel's horn. For the most part, railroading is unchanged from our childhood. The water in which one washes one's face at morn is still without any real wetness, the little ladder leading to the upper is still the symbol of the tremendous adventure of the night, the green clothes hammock still sways with the curves, and there is still no foolproof place to store one's trousers.

    "Our journey really began several days earlier, at the ticket window of a small station in the country, when the agent showed signs of cracking under the paperwork. 'It's hard to believe,' he said, 'that after all these years I still got to write the word "Providence" in here every time I make out one of these things. Now, there's no possible conceivable way you could make this journey without going through Providence, yet the Company wants the word written in here just the same. O.K., here she goes!' He gravely wrote 'Providence' in the proper space, and we experienced anew the reassurance that rail travel is unchanged and unchanging, and that it suits our temperament perfectly--a dash of lunacy, a sense of detachment, not much speed, and no altitude whatsoever."
    (E.B. White, "Railroads." The Second Tree From the Corner. Harper & Row, 1954)


  • An Annie Dillard Vignette
    "Some boys taught me to play football. This was fine sport. You thought up a new strategy for every play and whispered it to the others. You went out for a pass, fooling everyone. Best, you got to throw yourself mightily at someone’s running legs. Either you brought him down or you hit the ground flat out on your chin, with your arms empty before you. It was all or nothing. If you hesitated in fear, you would miss and get hurt: you would take a hard fall while the kid got away. But if you flung yourself wholeheartedly at the back of his knees--if you gathered and joined body and soul and pointed them diving fearlessly--then you likely wouldn’t get hurt, and you’d stop the ball. Your fate, and your team’s score, depended on your concentration and courage. Nothing girls did could compare with it.

    "Boys welcomed me at baseball, too, for I had, through enthusiastic practice, what was weirdly known as a boy’s arm. In winter, in the snow, there was neither baseball nor football, so the boys and I threw snowballs at passing cars. I got in trouble throwing snowballs, and have seldom been happier since."
    (Annie Dillard, An American Childhood. Harper & Row, 1987)


  • A Hemingway Vignette
    "Maera lay still, his head on his arms, his face in the sand. He felt warm and sticky from the bleeding. Each time he felt the horn coming. Sometimes the bull only bumped him with his head. Once the horn went all the way through him and he felt it go into the sand. Some one had the bull by the tail. They were swearing at him and flopping the cape in his face. Then the bull was gone. Some men picked Maera up and started to run with him toward the barriers through the gate out the passageway around under the grandstand to the infirmary. They laid Maera down on a cot and one of the men went out for the doctor. The others stood around. The doctor came running from the corral where he had been sewing up picador horses. He had to stop and wash his hands. There was a great shouting going on in the grandstand overhead. Maera felt everything getting larger and larger and then smaller and smaller. Then it got larger and larger and larger and then smaller and smaller. Then everything commenced to run faster and faster as when they speed up a cinematograph film. Then he was dead."
    (Ernest Hemingway, Chapter 14 of In Our Time. Charles Scribner's Sons, 1925)
Pronunciation: vin-YET
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