She Fell Asleep on the Stagecoach


I’ve been absent for a while. I apologize for that! I’ve been reading about the inception of the novel. Ian Watt believes Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders was among the first…while others have contested or included him in their critical reports.

I’m still reading Dickens, all along, but right now, among all critical reading, I’m in the near 3rd of Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship by Goethe, which will be my next entry.

Let me go back to The Old Curiosity Shop, the last novel I read outside of my PhD. There’s a reason Francine Prose and E.M Forster refer to Dickens when discussing the “how” of writing. In one of my fave “break the rules as you learn them” texts: Tom Romano’s Writing with Passion, he reveals all of Grammar B – the rules we break but know.

Here’s the labyrinthine sentence from The Old Curiosity Shop (Dickens 325). First, let me set the scene: Little Nell and her Grandfather have been on foot for months and this is Little Nell’s first ride in a Stagecoach (in her life).

“What a soothing, luxurious, drowsy way of travelling, to lie inside that slowly-moving mountain, listening to the tinkling of the horses’ bells, the occasional smacking of the carter’s whip, the smooth rolling of the great broad wheels, the rattle of the harness, the cheery good-nights of passing travellers jogging past on little short-stepped horses–all made pleasantly indistinct by the thick awning, which seemed made for lazy listening under, till one fell asleep! The very going to sleep, still with an indistinct idea, as the head jogged to and fro upon the pillow, of moving onward with no trouble or fatigue, and hearing all these sounds like dreamy music, lulling to the senses–and the slow waking up, and finding ones’s-self staring out through the breezy curtain half-opened in the front, far up into the cold bright sky with its countless stars, and downward at the driver’s lantern dancing on like its namesake Jack of the swamps and marshes, and sideways at the dark grim trees, and forward at the long bare road rising up, up, up, until it stopped abruptly at the sharp high ridge as if there were no more road, and all beyond was sky–and the stopping at the inn to bait, and being helped out, and going into a room with fire and candles, and winking very much, and being agreeably reminded that the night was cold, and anxious for very comfort’s sake to think it colder than it was! What a delicious journey was that journey in the waggon.”

So maybe there is a comma splice in there, but the plentiful “ands” mimic for the reader the ride. We are swept up, pushed along lazily and wake with Little Nell in the cold night, safe and illuminated in her luxurious moment. Constance Hale referred to this as parataxis. She says, “…parataxis links phrases or clauses with short pauses, creating a percussive effect, or perhaps a steady drum of ideas.” Try this. Repetition also aids the patterned sentences. It’s not what English teachers usually support, but don’t you feel lolled by the ride? Aren’t you suddenly waking to see the glowing room? It’s all worth breaking the rules. Use parataxis wisely, though!



2 responses to “She Fell Asleep on the Stagecoach

  1. Pure
    Surely, Dickens wrote this on the Stagecoach w/ his feathered pen!!!!

  2. Yes- I can see him on that stagecoach, too. He had such a chip on his shoulder with the upper class, but was one of them. What a hard thing to bear!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s