A Little Rustle, a Scurry, a Hop

This is the single most beautiful use of parentheses I have ever seen:

Josephine repeated, ‘Cyril says his father is very fond of meringues.’
‘Can’t hear,’ said old Colonel Pinner. And he waved Josephine away with his stick, then pointed his stick to Cyril. ‘Tell me what she’s trying to say’, he said.
(My God!) ‘Must I?’ said Cyril, blushing and staring at Aunt Josephine.
‘Do, dear,’ she smiled. ‘It will please him so much.’

From Katherine Mansfield’s short story ‘The Daughters of the Late Colonel’. It goes with the story that it is written mostly in free indirect style, which essentially means that the narrator refers both the dialogue and thoughts of the characters, filtered through his voice. (Wikipedia describes it this way: ‘It is as if the subordinate clause carrying the content of the indirect speech is taken out of the main clause which contains it, becoming the main clause itself.’ And people wonder why I am not a grammarian.)

Which is what makes this parenthesis – ‘(My God!)’ – so beautiful. It stands out as a break in the reported dialogue; the narrator breaks in to report what Cyrill thinks of the proceedings. The reader cannot rightly know whose outburst this is, but I imagine it is Cyril’s. And because it is the only break in the reported dialogue, it is all the more powerful. It is said that Mansfield was the only writer Woolf ever envied, and I do, as well.

On a related note, The Millions report that Paravion Press print post-card sized short stories, meant for mailing. They have a new edition of a Mansfield short story for Valentine’s Day.


About nirinia

Student of English Language and Literature, avid reader.
This entry was posted in All That I Love and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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