(un)common ground

a commonplace book

The Awesomely Hypotactic Intro to Wilde’s Lord Fermor

At half-past twelve next day Lord Henry Wotton strolled from Curzon Street over to the Albany to call on his uncle, Lord Fermor, a genial if somewhat rough-mannered old bachelor, whom the outside world called selfish because it derived no particular benefit from him, but who was considered generous by Society as he fed the people who amused him. His father had been [England’s] ambassador at Madrid when Isabella was young and Prim unthought of, but had retired from the diplomatic service in a capricious moment of annoyance on not being offered the Embassy at Paris, a post to which he considered that he was fully entitled by reason of his birth, his indolence, the good English of his dispatches, and his inordinate passion for pleasure. The son, who had been his father’s secretary, had resigned along with his chief, somewhat foolishly as was thought at the time, and on succeeding some months later to the title, had set himself to the serious study of the great aristocratic art of doing absolutely nothing. He had two large town houses, but preferred to live in chambers as it was less trouble, and took most of his meals at his club. He paid some attention to the management of his collieries in the Midland counties, excusing himself for this taint of industry on the ground that the one advantage of having coal was that it enabled a gentleman to afford the decency of burning wood on his own hearth. In politics he was a Tory, except when the Tories were in office, during which period he roundly abused them for being a pack of Radicals. He was a hero to his valet, who bullied him, and a terror to most of his relations, whom he bullied in turn. Only England could have produced him, and he always said that the country was going to the dogs. His principles were out of date, but there was a good deal to be said for his prejudices.

Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

Notes:
An extremely hypotactic passage in the satiric mode. Wilde opts for a continuous critique (from the oblique POV of Lord Henry, the proto-Randian philosopher of the story), a movement both substantiated and sustained by hypotaxis, by the rigorously hierarchical and subordinated writing, the waltz-like circling of clause after clause after clause, each tapping a chip off the emerging figure. Each sentence partakes of the satiric mode which flips the argument on its head in each second clause, producing irony like so many pancake flips on the hot griddle.

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This entry was posted on February 3, 2016 by and tagged , , .
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