Thursday, March 12, 2015
This, ladies and gentlemen, is why we – especially those of us who want to write – should read often, and read the same books over and over again.
Firstly, because we’re generally thick and it takes a time or two or six to get things through our heads.
Secondly, because sometimes an author does something so subtle it takes several readings and several changes of state of mind to catch what’s going on.
Take this, for example, from P.G. Wodehouse’s Right Ho, Jeeves:
“So you think I’m going to strew prizes at this bally Dotheboys Hall of yours?” [asks Bertie Wooster of his Aunt Agatha after she’s asked him to present prizes at the school where she serves on the board of governors]
“And make a speech?”
I laughed derisively.
“For goodness’ sake, don’t start gargling now. This is serious.”
“I was laughing.”
“Oh, were you? Well, I’m glad to see you taking it in this merry spirit.”
“Derisively,” I explained. “I won’t do it. That’s final. I simply will not do it.”
Three things going on here, one of them very subtle, but the main point I want to make.
First, the not-so-subtle. There’s little attribution here – and that’s excellent. Putting the he-said she-said in would slow down the pace of this scene, and it’s clear enough already what’s going on. Additionally, rather than a said for Bertie’s last quote, we get an “explained.” Normally, I would say change that to said – but it helps set off the subtle third little bit.
First, Bertie laughs derisively. Yes, that’s an adverb. Mark Twain recommends killing them. But we see Wodehouse use the adverb twice – the second time in a quote. Wodehouse, I think, is having fun with a frowned-upon writers’ convention by having Bertie show his derisiveness by repeating the adverb.
Yeah, I know. Subtle. But a real knee-slapper for word nerds.
And now, this: (Not from any Wodehouse work, but certainly something fitting for the time and something that would have amused him as a writer if he’d thought of it.)