Purple reign

Hitting a ‘purple patch’ and employing ‘purple prose’: I vaguely assumed the phrases were related, but had not realised they essentially have the same origin. Probably because one is used in a positive sense (i.e. for a period of good luck and success in one’s life) and one used pejoratively (i.e. about language, particularly written, that is overly ornate and flamboyant).

Purple, of course, has its historical origins as a ‘special’ colour because not only is it relatively rare in nature, but the cost of the dye required for purple clothing was prohibitive. Dating back to around 1900 BCE, originally produced in the Phoenician city of Tyre, purple dye was made from the mucus of seas nails (Bolinus brandaris), with at least 12,000 of the molluscs needed to produce enough dye for a modestly-sized Roman toga.

In fact, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603), anyone but the Queen’s close family members were forbidden to wear the colour. This was an element of the so-called Sumptuary Laws, which included regulation of the colours, fabrics, and clothing that different strata of English society could and could not wear. This elitism was discontinued in the 17th century, but the use of purple remained an indulgence. Not until 1856, when English chemist William Henry Perkin accidentally discovered a synthetic purple dye, did the hue become more widely available. However, purple as a symbol of wealth and luxury—and indeed luxuriance—continues to this day.

Purple prose (or ‘purple pace’) derives from the Latin phrase “purpureus pannus”

Hence the phrase ‘purple prose’—or ‘purple patches’ or ‘purple passages’, to describe florid and over-elaborate literary passages. In fact, ‘purple patches’ were not used in relation to anything other than writing until the 20th century.

I have been ‘purple’ myself, at times used language that has been called “too descriptive”. Because of the type of writing I do, I have aimed to saturate the senses. The sensual, surely, must precede the sexual, not to mention the intellectual. Recently, too, I have been completing something that is, quite consciously, produced in a slightly distended “Gothic” style, set in the 19th century.

A dense, sensual style is not for everyone. Not for those that prefer the stripped-back prose style of, say, Ernest Hemingway or Cormac McCarthy (as a couple of obvious examples). Is a pared-down style more ‘masculine’? That’s a whole different discussion. Though not necessarily, I think. Simplicity of style can be used for different purposes, to show a child’s perspective, for instance.

In defence of those who enjoy reading (and perhaps writing in) a more intense, extravagant language style, I recall the words of Angela Carter, whose literature was—is—so vivid and darkly imaginative: “…I’m an arty person. OK, I write overblown, purple, self-indulgent prose. So f*cking what?

Treat yourself.


Photo credits
Felix Mittermeier via Pexels
Alena Koval via Pexels.

17 thoughts on “Purple reign

  1. Purple prose…or poetry = perfect color for this autumn. Thx for sharing, I didn’t think about literature in color (for a very long time), but it’s common for “real, good or classical writers”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, I hadn’t thought of seasonal appropriateness, thank you. We think of it as losing colour, but it’s aflame.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Enjoyed reading this… all your posts make for interesting and informative reads… thanks for writing them…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s so kind, thank you for reading and for commenting.


      1. Welcome…my pleasure…


  3. Color and music can really mess with my emotions. Some good and some bad. There’s something about purple that lifts me up. I’m surprised I don’t have purple walls.

    Thank you for the added history. That was fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think in ‘colour psychology’ that means you’re creative! The science behind it may be dodgy, but sure it’s apt nonetheless.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, this is interesting! Never knew of the colors in literature! ✌️😃❤

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yep. So what? 🙂
    (Thanks for the smile)

    Liked by 1 person

  6. mucus, ew.
    but eky aside, that was an interesting tid bit of info i hadn’t known.
    I write the simple style way, considering both my character and the target audience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely need a bit more of your approach!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The quote from Angela Carter at the end makes me smile.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Angela Carter divides opinion, but love her.


  8. Ahan! Love the message it carries ❤️😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think we cannot help but be the sort of writer that we are…

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close