Are " severe design" and "bright" contradictory

HolyUnicorn

Senior Member
Mandarin / the Shanghai Dialect
Hello,

Her flat was always neat and cheerful, gay with flowers, and the chintzes in the drawing-room, notwithstanding their severe design, were bright and pretty.

The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham: Chapter 5 - The Literature Page

W. Somerset Maugham: The Moon and Sixpence (1919)


Is it possible for something to be of severe design and to be bright at the same time? Are ‘severe design” and “bright” contradictory?


OED:

Severe:

a. In reference to style or taste, literary or artistic: Shunning redundance or unessential ornament; not florid or exuberant; sober, restrained, austerely simple or plain.
 
  • PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Maugham's language is quite high register and, currently, somewhat old-fashioned:

    Severe -> OED 6 a. In reference to style or taste, literary or artistic: Shunning redundance or unessential ornament; not florid or exuberant; sober, restrained, austerely simple or plain.
    1860 J. Ruskin Modern Painters V. 319 He would have been remembered as one of the severest of painters.
    1872 W. Black Strange Adventures Phaeton x Queen Titania's more severe but no less graceful costume.

    Bright -> cheerful; fresh; of a light appearance/colour; not dull or sombre.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    The author uses "notwithstanding" to imply that "a severe design" is not usually "bright and pretty".

    But the author says that this one was.

    The term "severe design" does not have a single precise meaning. Many different designs could be called "severe".

    Perhaps "severe design" would mean it was in one color and had no pattern.
    That is one meaning. There are hundreds of other ones. Maugham probably does not mean this, since a "chintz" is usually a patterned fabric, not a one-color fabric with no pattern.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Obviously, this photo is from a modern house, whereas Maugham was writing 100 years ago. But this gives the idea of what Maugham meant by "severe" in the language of the day. Maugham, or at least his narrator, did not seem to approve of this severe style.

    Form_Gable_House10.jpg
     
    Last edited:

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    Perhaps it would help to understand "severe" as "minimalist" - as "severe" often means "without a pattern or other ornamentation or decoration - plain fabrics are/can be "severe."
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    No. The colour is too definite and that colour is associated with romance and love. That colour is very noticeable. It draws your attention to it.
     

    PaulQ

    Senior Member
    UK
    English - England
    I will say that the definition of "severe" as used by Maugham is very accurate and descriptive but it is not a meaning that is commonly used today. Perhaps "extremely simple, or even, austere" is close to what he means.
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top