The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.0093 Wednesday, 16 January 2002
Date: Tuesday, 15 Jan 2002 13:58:00 -0600
Comment: Re: SHK 13.0068
The quotation from Conan Doyle's +The White Company+ in the "fudden
ftab" business illustrates something or other.
> Sir Nigel sprang to his feet with his bloody dagger in his left hand and
> gazed down upon his adversary, but that fatal and sudden stab in the
> vital spot, which the Spaniard had exposed by raising his arm, had
> proved instantly mortal. The Englishman leaped upon his horse and made
> for the hill, at the very instant that a yell of rage from a thousand
> voices and the clang of a score of bugles announced the Spanish onset.
I was startled in reading it about how pedestrian it sounded and began
musing about why. From one standpoint, it seemed to follow certain rules
of "effective writing" -- lots of active verbs, great specificity of
detail. But my intuitive sense labeled it "hopelessly second rate."
Some things can be picked out. There's nothing wrong with "sprang" but
adding "to his feet" makes it a mostly empty cliche." Gazed" would seem
to be the wrong alternative to "look" since it suggests more leisure
than the episode wants to portray. "Adversary" has a formal sound.
"Fatal," "vital," and "mortal" all say much the same thing and chime
dreadfully. "Instant" is repeated. Other items might be mentioned.
But what seems to be the main problem is that nothing really happens in
front of our eyes. It's almost like those dry casualty figures that war
I gather that what happened was this: Sir Nigel stabbed upward into one
of the Spaniard's armpits, cutting the big artery. When this happened a
huge amount of blood would have been pumped out, and this blood would be
all over the ground and the corpse -- which would be lying in whatever
ungainly pose it came to rest in after the knees buckled and it fell
limply.In other words, it would be horrible and ugly -- but that's what
death, especially violent death, is like. That also seems to be what the
passage deliberately avoids.
It is, perhaps, salutary to read second-rate writing at times (and Sir
Arthur was arguably the most important second-rate writer in the
language) in order to appreciate better the first-rate.
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