Geoff Pullum, of Language Log (and Eskimo-snow-words) fame, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Elements of Style with a Chronicle Review column even more vitriolic, if that’s possible, than his earlier attacks on the excessively loved Strunk-’n’-White combo. Needless to say, I applaud; with regard to their notorious strictures against the passive (which, as Geoff points out, they seem unable to identify in the first place), I will quote my comment in the related MetaFilter thread:
I just came across this in an excellent piece on Chekhov by the long-forgotten (probably because he emigrated to Bulgaria instead of Paris or New York) Russian émigré critic Petr Bitsilli (whom Nabokov praised as the most intelligent critic of his writings in a 1943 letter):
A Chekhov character is … an object of external influence rather than a subject, and his residual humanity consists in responding to the outside pressures with his mind and heart. This is attested to by Chekhov’s language. Significantly enough, one often encounters in his works passive, third-person constructions such as “it appeared to him,” “it occurred to him,” and the like, instead of sentences in which a human being plays an active role, in which he or she thinks, recalls, desires, and so on.
Of course, the Strunkonians will say that great writers get to break the “rules.” I will respond that Professor Pullum wrote The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, so if anyone is qualified to say what the rules are, it’s him, and not a couple of amateurs like Whunk and Strite.