Who said what?

Following on from my last post about quotations, it seems to me that quotations by famous authors fall into three categories. The first is things they say or write as themselves. The second is things they write as the authorial voice of a literary work. The third is things they put into the mouths of their characters. We presume that what they say or write as themselves is their true opinion. For example, Jane Austen said or wrote “I am going to take a heroine [Emma] whom no one but myself will much like”. What they write as the authorial voice may or may not be their own opinion. Austen wrote “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”. Did she believe that, or was she satirising people like Mrs Bennett? Austen then has Mr Collins say “The death of your daughter [Lydia] would have been a blessing in comparison of this [her eloping with Wickham and now living with him unmarried]”. Did she believe that, or was she satirising people like Mr Collins?

For some authors, the line is blurred. George Orwell and Ayn Rand are famous for putting their opinions into their authorial voice and the mouths of their characters. Comedians often have a comic persona called “I” who may or may not believe the same things the comedian does – Rodney Dangerfield and Stephen Colbert spring to mind. For others, attributing the words of the character to the author is or could be seriously misleading. Charles Schulz is often quoted as saying “I’ve developed a new philosophy. I only dread one day at a time!” But that was actually said by Charlie Brown. He is also quoted as saying “Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It’s already tomorrow in Australia”. Schulz may or may not have believed that, but the actual exchange in the strip is:

Charlie Brown: I heard him [“that speaker”] say the world is coming to an end …
Peppermint Pattie: Marcie said the world can’t end today because it’s already tomorrow in Australia.

Schulz may have recycled the idea in the more familiar form later.

There are times when an author puts into the mouth of a character something she or he doesn’t believe. Oscar Wilde has the Duchess of Berwick in Lady Windermere’s Fan say “Australia … must be so pretty with all the dear little kangaroos flying about.” I am certain that Wilde did not believe that. 

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Weather we like it or not

We are having an above averagely wet summer, which is actually preferable to the above averagely hot with extensive bushfires summer we had last year. Today was the first day back at work for some of us. I generally keep an eye on the rain radar website and tell my colleagues what’s likely to happen. (We are currently mostly working at our respective homes, spread across the metropolitan area.) Today was forecast for rain and a possible storm in the afternoon, so I informed my Sydney colleague of this. He thanked me and added “I was wondering weather …”

This reminded me of a little poem one of my grandmothers taught me when I was young:

Whether the weather be cold, or whether the weather be hot,
Whether the weather be fine, or whether the weather be not,
We’ll whether the weather, whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not.

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Cormac McCarthy’s writing tips

The distinguished or eminent Stan Carey of Sentence First, one of the better blogs about language, has posted about the novelist Cormac McCarthy‘s writing tips for scientific writers, many of which also apply to any formal writing (and perhaps even more to fiction writing). (Read McCarthy’s tips in full before you read Stan’s post.) They are generally sound, but I could quibble with a few of them, and Stan does. I would also make the comment that very good writers are not always very good at writing about writing, though note that McCarthy is also an experienced science editor.

removalist

My wife and I are in the process of selling one house, buying another and moving. While writing comments on Facebook, I noticed that its spell-checker was red-underlining removalist. (Pages for Mac and WordPress do, too.) Dictionary.com lists removalist as “Australian”, which surprised me. I asked my North American friends on Facebook, and they said they would only use mover but would understand removalist in the context of moving house. (By the way, moving house or just moving are both reasonably strange things to say. One student once told me that she’d spent the weekend “moving my house”.)

Some of my Facebook friends also mentioned packers. I have been doing most of the packing myself, and we won’t be paying specifically for packing (the removalists may do some incidental packing). Many years ago I attended a party for a friend whose company was relocating her to Melbourne. She said that the company was paying for the move, including the packing. Later in the evening, someone else commented on the lack of cardboard boxes around the apartment. I said “Kerry and Jamie are coming tomorrow morning”. She looked puzzled, and so were my North American friends when I told that story on Facebook. Anyone not from Australia is welcome to guess my meaning before I update with the answer. [edit: Kerry Packer was then Australia’s most powerful media owner. Jamie (now known as James) was being groomed as his successor; his interests are more broadly commercial]

One of my Australian friends mentioned a play (later a movie) by the Australian playwright David Williamson titled The Removalists. Given that there is only one actual removalist in the play/movie, it is possible that there is a double meaning in the title.