You Got Style
· Pointed Takes on Style Delineated ·
May 14, 2004
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· Suspended Sentences ·
The news reminds me of a passage from Frank O'Connor's short story "Guests of the Nation." Set in Ireland during the First World War, the story deals with the fate of two British prisoners (Belcher and Hawkins) who are sacrificed to a sadly fateful political necessity. They are eliminated because, following word of the execution of Irish prisoners elsewhere, their captors can't excuse them from the terrible, bloody consequences of war. Despite their good efforts, they must go.
The particular passage that interests me is this:
Now I don't mean to trivialize his story, but O'Connor's stylistic finesse is breathtaking. His larger intent notwithstanding, he has shifted — or so it seems to me — from objects initially listed in his fine penultimate sentence ("a bucket, a basket, or a load of turf") to the objective, substantive weight of "hot water" marked in his last. Reread and you'll maybe see his move!
What I ask is this: does anyone know the correct stylistic name for it — or perhaps, too, the political?Permalink
Have you checked other editions of this story? The sentence might be the result of an accidental editorial error.
I've read three reprints. Chances are the sentence is intentional — perhaps O'Connor's "elliptically deferred Irish idiom."
Consulting several sources, I think the inverted sentence order might be somewhat characteristic of Irish idiomatic English. It's a way of emphasizing certain words: "If ever I find you doing this again," my grandmother would scold, the "ever" being unexpectedly placed before the subject rather than after it. "Himself, he would own the whole town," she would say about an affluent neighbor, beginning the sentence with the reflexive.
Another characteristic of Irish idiomatic speech is the "aside" or the parenthetic expression, both of which may be at work here. Consider the effect of alternate punctuation: "And hot water — or any little thing she wanted — Belcher would have it ready for her."
Yes, by deferring the inverted aside in Noble's idiomatic speech, O'Connor's Irish narrator (Bonaparte) emphasizes Belcher's necessary subordination to provisional Irish authority.
"[A]nd hot water, or any little thing she wanted" (whether dashed, or not) is deferred, emphasized, inverted, and subordinated in one elegant, quite obviously stylish move.
I agree — especially if John Kerry can make that same move now for our beleaguered nation.
Belatedly, I should note that Rumsfeld's final day at work was yesterday.
Perhaps for Rummy's shoe to drop only hastens our current hope now for Bush's.
"Suspended Sentences" indeed.
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