William Jr. Strunk Critical Essays


(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

Strunk, William Jr. 1869-1946

American educator, editor, and author.

Strunk is the author of The Elements of Style, known as "the little book" of English grammar. Despite its slight size—only forty-three pages—it has remained a useful tool for students of English composition for decades. E. B. White, a former student of Strunk's, revised and updated the book in 1935 and termed The Elements of Style Strunk's parvum opus.

Biographical Information

Strunk was born on 1 July 1869, in Cincinnati, Ohio. He attended the University of Cincinnati and received his undergraduate degree in 1890. He became an instructor of mathematics at the Rose Polytechnic Institute in Terre Haute, Indiana but left to pursue graduate studies in English literature. After earning his doctorate at Cornell University in 1896, he studied at the University of Paris in 1898. A year later he returned to Cornell and became an instructor of English literature. During this time he edited several books on English literature and developed an interest in writing a handbook on English grammar derived from his experience with undergraduate students. Privately printed in 1918, The Elements of Style garnered critical and popular attention for Strunk. Becoming a full professor in 1909, he remained at Cornell until his retirement in 1937. During his career he was recognized not only as the author of The Elements of Style, but also as a respected editor of Shakespearean literature. He died on 26 September 1946.

Major Works

A treatise on the rules of English usage and the principles of composition, The Elements of Style is considered the major achievement of Strunk's career. During his years of teaching English literature at Cornell University, he noted that his students often abused certain rules of composition and grammar. In 1918, he selfpublished a handbook meant to address those abuses, The Elements of Style. Referred to as "the little book," it was only forty-three pages long; despite its small size, it soon became an essential handbook for English composition classes throughout the country. Revised and updated by American author E. B. White in 1935, White classified The Elements of Style as Strunk's "attempt to cut the vast tangle of English rhetoric down to size and write its rules and principles on the head of a pin."

Critical Reception

The Elements of Style has been praised as an effective tool for writers and an essential handbook for students of English grammar and composition. Critics laud Strunk's wit and engaging style, and they deem his attention to the rules of grammar comforting. For decades the book has remained a popular and critical success. The continuing appeal of the "little book" was explained by White, who wrote, "I still find the Strunkian wisdom a comfort, the Strunkian humor a delight, and the Strunkian attitude toward right-and-wrong a blessing undisguised."