Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A little more of Adam Bede's harvest party

Just a little piece of the Harvest Party chapter of Adam Bede, since the day seems to have slipped away from me:

"A grin of delight broke over Tom's face as the plate was set down before him, between his knife and fork, which he held erect, as if they had been sacred tapers. But the delight was too strong to continue smouldering in a grin--it burst out the next instant in a long-drawn"haw, haw!" followed by a sudden collapse into utter gravity, as the knife and fork darted down on the prey."

Let's be tough on this passage. The first clause is pretty ordinary, and "a grin of delight" is weak, a cliché. But I can't argue with the second half. The "sacred tapers" are not meant seriously, but are sort of "mock sacred." The roast beef is a holy thing for Tom. The simile aids precision, as well. I picture the scene more accurately, just how the knife and fork are held, just where the plate is set.

The next sentence is even better. The delight is smoldering, not the tapers, but the tapers create the association, make it seem almost logical. The delight smolders, then bursts, then collapses. Into "utter gravity," which sounds like a black hole. I don't know what this character looks like, but I can see his face in a way - the grin, the laugh, and then the serious business of eating. The great comedy, of course, is in the word "utter."

Have I crushed these sentences sufficiently? Should I mention that this character is a new one, here in chapter 53, invented just to eat this plate of roast beef, and never seen again?*

I have great sympathy for any man who really enjoys his food, so I may be prejudiced. But this little passage is worthy of Dickens. Worthy of Flaubert.

* This is Tom Tholer. In Chapter 4, five hundred pages ago, we heard of the death of a Bob Tholer. Eliot's keeping track of the details.

No comments:

Post a Comment