the main cause of the tragedy, throwing her into

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SuprunP

Senior Member
Ukrainian & Russian
At sight of this Sue's nerves utterly gave way, an awful conviction that her discourse with the boy had been the main cause of the tragedy, throwing her into a convulsive agony which knew no abatement.
(T. Hardy: Jude the Obscure)

Did the author mean to say this:

At sight of this Sue's nerves utterly gave way, an awful conviction that her discourse with the boy had been the main cause of the tragedy [,] throwing her into a convulsive agony which knew no abatement.

If so, what is the purpose of putting in the comma?

Thanks.
 
  • ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    This is how I read it, Suprun:
    At sight of this Sue's nerves utterly gave way, [an awful conviction that her discourse with the boy had been the main cause of the tragedy,] throwing her into a convulsive agony which knew no abatement.
     

    SuprunP

    Senior Member
    Ukrainian & Russian
    Thank you, ewie!

    What grammatical role does [an awful conviction that her discourse with the boy had been the main cause of the tragedy,] play in the sentence then?

    Thanks.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Well, I assume that in the sentence this and the tragedy are one and the same thing.

    ...

    I think it might be what's called an 'absolute' clause ~ it's more or less equivalent to:
    At sight of this Sue's nerves utterly gave way, [Sue having been possessed by an awful conviction that her discourse with the boy had been the main cause of the tragedy,] throwing her into a convulsive agony which knew no abatement.
    Unfortunately I'm not much of a grammar expert:eek:

    (It's quite a complex sentence: the more I pick away at it, the more it seems to fall into three discrete pieces:confused:)
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    I agree with ewie's (Hardyesque) red text as the explanation of the meaning of the sentence. I, too, will await the arrival of the grammar technicians to diagnose the situation in this 100+ year old piece of English writing.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hi SuprunP

    The comma looks wrong to me, too - but then punctuation conventions have changed over time.

    I would see the basic structure of the sentence as being:
    Sue's nerves utterly gave way, an awful conviction ... throwing her into a convulsive agony which knew no abatement.

     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    The comma looks wrong to me, too - but then punctuation conventions have changed over time.

    I would see the basic structure of the sentence as being:
    Sue's nerves utterly gave way, an awful conviction ... throwing her into a convulsive agony which knew no abatement.

    Good point, Mrs L:thumbsup: (Folks were a lot fonder of commas back then than they are today.)
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I'm with ewie on this one. Her nerves giving way threw her, rather than an awful conviction threw her. The part between the commas is parenthetical so both commas are needed even if you can't figure out the relation of the parenthetical statement to the rest of the novel.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    That's interesting, Myridon: I've tried - honest! - but I can't make sense of the sentence that way.

    The only way I can make sense of it is if I ignore the comma after tragedy....
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    That's (kind of) what I meant about it falling into separate pieces, Mrs ~ I can make sense of it, but only if I overlook the bit in the middle or tack it on to one of the other bits. Or something.
     

    SuprunP

    Senior Member
    Ukrainian & Russian
    I'm with ewie on this one. Her nerves giving way threw her, rather than an awful conviction threw her. The part between the commas is parenthetical so both commas are needed even if you can't figure out the relation of the parenthetical statement to the rest of the novel.
    A parenthetical element... So, I can insert a thought, which can be no more than a phrase, inside a sentence, separate it with commas and be 'done with it', even if my reader might have a hard time reading such a passage, pondering on whether I made a mistake?

    Thanks.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I've been trying to find some google-support for my/Suprun's reading that it's the "awful conviction" that threw Sue into a convulsive agony.

    This snippet's the best I can come up with:):
    Unity in Hardy's novels: "repetitive symmetries"

    books.google.co.uk
    Peter J. Casagrande - 1982 - 249 pages - Snippet view
    Upon returning she finds her hanged innocents and their dead executioner and is thrown into agony by the 'awful conviction that her discourse with the boy had been the main cause of the tragedy' (ibid.).
     

    Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    I have little doubt that the awful conviction caused her nerves to give way thus throwing her into agony so you can certainly paraphrase the sentence that way, but it doesn't really explain the layout of the original sentence.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    I think (as I said above) that the layout of the original sentence is due to different punctuation conventions. We wouldn't use a comma after tragedy now.
     
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