by drift of groping

Irelia20150604

Senior Member
Chinese
The context comes from Jane Eyre Chapter 11

Mrs. Fairfax stayed behind a moment to fasten the trap-door; I, by drift of groping, found the outlet from the attic, and proceeded to descend the narrow garret staircase. I lingered in the long passage to which this led, separating the front and back rooms of the third storey: narrow, low, and dim, with only one little window at the far end, and looking, with its two rows of small black doors all shut, like a corridor in some Bluebeard’s castle.
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Hi everyone! I don't quite understand "by drift of groping" here. The expression is new to me. I try to interpret it as "I, drifting and groping, found the outlet from the attic", i.e., "I, wandering without aim and searching uncertainly, found the outlet from the attic". Is it correct?
 
  • spilorrific

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I would say your version captures it fairly well. "Groping" often implies feeling one's way, reaching and touching to discover what one cannot see.
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    From the context "by drift of groping" equals "by means of groping" equals "using groping".

    This use of drift is not an English expression with a meaning. At least not today: the book was written 169 years ago. Perhaps it was a recognizable usage for 10 or 20 years. Or it may be unique to this author.
     

    Irelia20150604

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Yes. I considered the similarity between "by drift of" and "by means of", but failed to reach a conclusion. The expression of "by drift of" is really new to me, and "drift" seems not similar to "means". So I guess it means "drifting and groping". :D Thank you again.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I would expect "by dint of", but "drift" suggests the movement better. Perhaps Charlotte Bronte invented this.
     
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