"in a voice that clearly doubted", "her face thinking"

Ashibaal

Senior Member
French
Hello everyone,

This is an another extract from Patrick White (Australian, Nobel Prize in Literature)'s The Tree of Man (1955):

'Amy VictoriaFibbens?' he read in a slow voice that clearly doubted.
[...]
'Yes,' she said, her face thinking.
(p. 20)


I understand what is written. My question is: on a scale from 0 (normal "literature" language, fancy but nothing original) to 10 (contemporary poetry, e.e.cummings-level-weird), what would you rate these expressions? In other terms, how wide is the gap with standard language (even "literature" standard language)?
Subsidiary question: Would you go as as far as to say that this the face and voice here are personified here? I don't know, if, in French, I were to write "she said, her face thinking", nobody would ever publish me :D That sounds supernatural. Even the most inventive French writer in French, someone that would push the boundaries of language (like Raymond Queneau, Boris Vian, whoever), would not write that. So it seems you guys have higher tolerance for that kind of oddity.
 
  • pachanga7

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Hi Ashibaal, welcome to the forums.

    I am having trouble assigning a number I think because of your scale, with 0 being “fancy literary language but nothing original”, to paraphrase what you wrote. In fact, unless it’s nothing but a mess of clichés, literary language is typically characterized by being high in originality, showing off the clever insights and observations of the author, and going for special kinds of impact on the reader.

    These phrases sound strange to me since they are more blunt than usual, but I accept them as an attempt by the author to evoke an interiority or intimacy of feeling in his audience.

    Hope that helps!
     

    Ashibaal

    Senior Member
    French
    Hello pachanga, thank you for your welcome.

    literary language is typically characterized by being high in originality
    High-brow literature, maybe. Which, I think, is an exception in most of the literature that is published and read today in the world. I don't remember much originality in the use of English that G.R.R. Martin does during the thousands and thousands of pages of A Song of Ice and Fire, for example. Not mentionning what most people read, thrillers, romance, etc.
     

    pachanga7

    Senior Member
    English - US
    Thank you for the G.R.R. Martin reference, it helps frame your question with more specificity to guide us.

    So I went to Amazon and read a three-paragraph excerpt of Book One of “A Song of Ice and Fire” which had many hallmarks of being literary language and it seems to me we might lump those hallmarks into about four categories: concept density, word sequence inversions, the originality of word clusters and the rarity of the words themselves. Maybe a fifth would relate to emotional vs objective language choices. From the excerpt:

    “Behind the towering wall”—here the word “towering” is both a condensed and emotionally evocative choice of terms, so it is clearly literary without being particularly original, as you say.

    On the other hand:

    Such is the stern motto of House Stark...

    I would argue that “stern motto” is an original word cluster that is unlikely to be found in everyday speech. Additionally this fragment shows inversion of standard sequences (“Such is the motto” rather than “the motto is”) and made-up names.

    All these features, while less usual in everyday speech, are standard for literary language with only a portion of them showing outright originality, so I take your point.

    Now with regards to your question about

    ...in a slow voice that clearly doubted.
    , her face thinking.

    Assuming these phrases actually end where you have ended them, their literary features are: emotionality in their references to mental activities, and also condensed speech, linked with concept density (we might even say truncated speech), in that usually “doubted” and “thinking” are going to take an object which in these cases were omitted.

    So I think this is not totally bizarre for a writer of literature, but it is more unusual than the standard literary language seen in the Game of Thrones bestsellers. The effect for the reader is a bit like walking off a cliff into an emotional fog. Doubting what? Thinking about what? The reader is left to sort that out for his or herself.
     
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    london calling

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I couldn't grade that either, but the more I read about this author the more I want to read his books.:) His language is creative, which is I think a definite plus. French is far more rigid than English, in my experience, or maybe French readers are not as willing to accept a more creative use of it.
     

    Ashibaal

    Senior Member
    French
    French is far more rigid than English, in my experience, or maybe French readers are not as willing to accept a more creative use of it.
    This is out of topic, but I do not think you would say this had you read Raymond Queneau, Boris Vian, Céline, Claude Simon, Julien Gracq, etc. etc. etc. Claude Simon, especially. Even in science fiction (Damasio) or fantasy (Jaworski). And these are just novelists, don't even get me started on poetry. So, it pains me to see French getting such a bad rep'. I am asking about creative writing here precisely because English and French work differently, not because literature written in English is more creative... Anyways...

    Presumably doubting that such an outlandish name as Amy Victoria Fibbens could actually exist.
    Maybe, although I am heard-pressed to tell what is so outlandish about "Amy Victoria Fibbens". The conversation follows by "are you one of those Fibbens from Kelly's Corner", so he is more probably surprised to find that this attractive girl comes from a very miserable family ("'Now I remember.' Which made it worse. Because he remembered the shed at Kelly's Corner. [...] He remembered this girl, the mud halfway up her bare legs.")

    Presumably thinking "Why on earth is he speaking in a doubting voice?" or "What's wrong with my name?"
    No, that is not it, but I cannot quote longer passages and this is not very important anyway. I specified the exact page if you are really interested.

    “Behind the towering wall”—here the word “towering” is both a condensed and emotionally evocative choice of terms, so it is clearly literary without being particularly original, as you say.

    On the other hand:

    Such is the stern motto of House Stark...

    I would argue that “stern motto” is an original word cluster that is unlikely to be found in everyday speech. Additionally this fragment shows inversion of standard sequences (“Such is the motto” rather than “the motto is”) and made-up names.

    All these features, while less usual in everyday speech, are standard for literary language with only a portion of them showing outright originality, so I take your point.
    Wow, thank you for taking the time to have a look on this! Well, yeah, everything that you mentioned, I would call level 0 in my proposed scale. "Towering wall" I would call very cliché. Just to be clear, it is really not that I am "hating on" Martin's writing. I am just talking "wordsmithing" here, at the level of the sentence. Martin obviously knows how to write a story, build an entire universe and write believable characters that you root for.

    Assuming these phrases actually end where you have ended them, their literary features are: emotionality in their references to mental activities, and also condensed speech, linked with concept density (we might even say truncated speech), in that usually “doubted” and “thinking” are going to take an object which in these cases were omitted.
    Yes, they end up where I ended them, which is why I wrote marks. And yes, I agree with you. I would say that the use of these verbs here is "absolute". In French you can call this "intransitive". Associating with the subjects "voice" and "face" makes it even more peculiar. So, is this a 5 or something?:p

    Thank you all for your having taken the time to answer!
     

    pachanga7

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I think Edinburgher is having some fun with us, Ashibaal!

    The name is humorous in my estimation because Fibbens contains the word “fib” which is lowbrow and Victoria is a famous queen’s name. Amy is also informal. The contrast is...amusing.

    I would say that the use of these verbs here is "absolute". In French you can call this "intransitive". Associating with the subjects "voice" and "face" makes it even more peculiar. So, is this a 5 or something?:p
    The more I think about this the more I agree with you about the strangeness of the language being used here. I am not familiar with French to be able to compare it, but the wordsmithery of the English certainly is strange. The author could have just said “in a slow, doubtful voice” and “her face thoughtful” and all would have been forgiven.

    I’m gonna go with a 6.
     
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