as artful as it was artless

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AlexanderIII

Senior Member
Russian
Dear all,
this is from GUT SYMMETRIES by Jeanette Winterson. The young woman (the narrator) scrutinizes her older rival.

Her hair was dark red, dogwood red, leather red with a suppleness to it that is part gift, part effort. I guessed that the look of hers was as artful as it was artless.

I think the look of her hair was as a suppleness a combination of natural and artificial factors. That is her hair could be dark red from nature but tinted as well. The natural curls (if any) are enhanced with fluting iron and so on. As... as... I'd interpret as half natural (artless), half artful (artificial, introduced by skilful hands). Is this understanding correct?
 
  • Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    It's hard to say. Some people spend a lot of time making their hair look like they just got out of bed - there's even a line of hair care products called Bed Head. :)
     

    Copperknickers

    Senior Member
    Scotland - Scots and English
    I'd concur with Myridon. It was artfully crafted to look like no effort had been put into it at all.
     

    AlexanderIII

    Senior Member
    Russian
    But if the matters stand as you, Myridon and Copperknickers, say her hair is all the same half natural half "handmade" in respect of colour, suppleness, curls, general shape. Otherwise why the "as... as..."?
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    It can be completely produced by art while appearing completely not like a work of art. 100% of each. It's as much artless (100%) as artful (100%).
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    "I guessed that the look of hers..." As I read it, "hers" makes me wonder "the look of her what?", and my eye goes back to "hair". It's slightly odd, but it would be very odd phrasing indeed if it were meant to refer to her looks in a general way.
     

    AlexanderIII

    Senior Member
    Russian
    Is it only how her hair looks that's described, or is her general appearance mentioned before the sentence about her hair? By your quote from the book it's impossible to say.
    In the previous paragraph there is the description as follows:

    She was slim, wired, a greyhound body, half bent forward now, shape of her back muscles contouring her shirt, white, starched, expensive. Her left arm looked like the front window of Tiffany's. I was not sure how a woman could wear so much silver and sit without a lean.

    Actually it's hard to suspect that something of the mentioned in this paragraph could be as artful as it was artless.
     
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    AutumnOwl

    Senior Member
    Swedish, Finnish
    I would interpret it as her entire look, her shirt was expensive, as well as the jewelry on her left arm, to describe an artless way to dress usually means clothes with simple lines (but often expensive), while her hair colour contrasted to to white, starched shirt, to make her an artful (decorative) image.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I have no quarrel with her whole look being artless and artful, but how do you explain: "I guessed that the look of hers...", AO? "The look of hers" cannot mean "her look", can it?
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    To me, "the look of hers" means "the look of her hair".

    artful + artless must be not more than 100%:D
    This is not math. This is language. "I'm as angry with you as I am in love with you" does not mean "I am 50% angry with you and 50% in love with you". ;) Mathematically, it's "level of anger = level of infatuation". :)
     

    AlexanderIII

    Senior Member
    Russian
    To me, "the look of hers" means "the look of her hair".
    I see.
    This is not math. This is language. "I'm as angry with you as I am in love with you" does not mean "I am 50% angry with you and 50% in love with you". ;) Mathematically, it's "level of anger = level of infatuation". :)
    And not mathematically? From "I'm as angry with you as I am in love with you" I understand that the levels of anger and infatuation are equal. Do you not, JamesM? I'd say this is not just language, but the language that uses logical categories (as... as..., equal, unequal, more, less, not more, not less). Per cents are just kidding of course.

    Thank you very much, AutumnOwl, Velisarius and JamesM!
     

    AlexanderIII

    Senior Member
    Russian
    This is not math. This is language.
    You sound, JamesM, as if you oppose math (I'd say logic) to life. Actually there is no opposition. The material of life (and even broader, of reality) is penetrated, saturated by logical regularities like denim with dye. They are yielded to by everything from soil worms to the stars. Or if you will we discern them everywhere and in everyday life of course too.

    Of course this is language. And I must translate this into another language. Do you mean the sense should be

    the look of hers was not more artful than it was artless ? No, I hope.
    the look of hers was not less artful than it was artless ? No, I hope.

    Then the idea is clear. To shape it in Russian is another problem we won't discuss here.
     
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