muddled out of peculiarity

ampurdan

Senior Member
Català & español (Spain)
This is an excerpt of a novel called The Dante Club:

"It would be the American Story readers awaited at every bookseller and library—the one Hawthorne had failed to find before his death; the one promising spirits, like Herman Melville, muddled out of peculiarity on the way to anonymity and isolation."

As you see, it's about an author who's planning to write a new book. I don't quite understand the part in bold. Is muddled here an adjective or a verb in participle tense? Does it mean that those promising spirits like Melville were supposed to mix their stories with something? Any help will be appreciated.

Regards,

amp
 
  • PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    If I rewrite, "the one promising spirits, like Herman Melville, muddled out of peculiarity on the way to anonymity and isolation."

    as

    the one that promises spirits (like Herman Melville did) i.e. spirits that are muddled out of peculiarity and on the way to anonymity and isolation."

    Does that help?
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    Perhaps it means:

    "... the one which certain promising spirits (such as Herman Melville) created out of a muddle of peculiarity on their way to anonymity and isolation."

    Or perhaps not. It's certainly a muddle of peculiarity (as indeed is much of that novel).
     

    ampurdan

    Senior Member
    Català & español (Spain)
    Thank you both for your answers.

    If I rewrite, "the one promising spirits, like Herman Melville, muddled out of peculiarity on the way to anonymity and isolation."

    as

    the one that promises spirits (like Herman Melville did) i.e. spirits that are muddled out of peculiarity and on the way to anonymity and isolation."

    Does that help?
    But then a verb is lacking, isn't it?

    Perhaps it means:

    "... the one which certain promising spirits (such as Herman Melville) created out of a muddle of peculiarity on their way to anonymity and isolation."

    Or perhaps not. It's certainly a muddle of peculiarity (as indeed is much of that novel).
    Is it normal to elide the main verb "created"?

    EDIT - Sorry, Paul. I didn't read your post very well. I see your point now: "promising" = "that promises", it's not an adjective. But what does "to promise spirits" mean?
     

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    ...Is it normal to elide the main verb "created"?...
    No, but then it isn't normal to write sentences as obscure as this one!

    Promising can perfectly easily be a verbal participle referring to the book. The book promising spirits = the book which promises ghosts (to its reader) or which promises enthusiasm (to its reader).
    Or promising can equally well be an adjective referring to spirits. The book promising spirits, like Herman Melville, muddled ... = the book which promising intellectuals like H.M. created in a muddle.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    In view of the parallelism of the two defining phrases, each introduced by 'the one...', it seems clear that 'promising' goes with 'spirits'.
    In other words, it means: 'the one which promising spirits muddled...'
    However the last part, 'muddled out of peculiarity on the way to anonymity and isolation' is so unclear and seemingly incorrect that any meaning would have to be derived from further context.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    The main message, as I see it, is that no one had yet written 'The American Story': Hawthorne had failed to find such a story, promising writers like Melville had found an idea but made a muddle of it.
     

    ampurdan

    Senior Member
    Català & español (Spain)
    In view of the parallelism of the two defining phrases, each introduced by 'the one...', it seems clear that 'promising' goes with 'spirits'.
    In other words, it means: 'the one which promising spirits muddled...'
    However the last part, 'muddled out of peculiarity on the way to anonymity and isolation' is so unclear and seemingly incorrect that any meaning would have to be derived from further context.
    I'd say context favors "promising spirits muddled". This is what follows: "Dante dared to make himself into an almost divine hero, transforming his own defective personality through the swagger of the poetry. But for this the Florentine sacrificed his home, his life with his wife and children, his place in the crooked city he loved."

    The main message, as I see it, is that no one had yet written 'The American Story': Hawthorne had failed to find such a story, promising writers like Melville had found an idea but made a muddle of it.
    Thank you, Wandle, but couldn't it mean that Melville actually did write that kind of book (in Moby Dick, I guess) using a peculiar story thanks to the fact that the author had become estranged from society, like Dante? I'm not acquainted with Melville's biography, so maybe it does not make any sense. He was friends with Hawthorne, for what it may be worth.
     

    wandle

    Senior Member
    English - British
    'Peculiarity' here means, I think, not strangeness but individuality, as in 'peculiar to America'.
    This suggests the meaning: Melville had found the American Story, but made such a muddle of it that he had moved it away from individuality: in fact, in the direction of anonymity and isolation.
    The difficulty with this is that it seems unlikely that he meant to say that either Melville or Moby Dick was near to being anonymous and isolated, or unAmerican.
     
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