Charles Dickens and the Suspended Quotation

alex atkins bookshelf literatureOne of the distinct characteristics of Charles Dickens’ writing is the use of the suspended quotation. “What is a suspended quotation?” you ask suspensefully. A fine question, dear reader. A suspended quotation is an extended interruption (at least five words) by a narrator of a character’s speech. In the hands of a masterful storyteller, the suspended quotations can serve one of several purposes: (1) describe body language, like gestures and facial contortions; (2) describe demeanor or intonation; (3) describe a character’s physical features; (4) describe a character’s typical behaviors; or (5) reveal the narrator’s strong presence and compelling insights. Here are some examples of suspended quotations (in italic):

From Dombey and Son: “I am proud to see,” said Mr. Carker, with a servile stooping of his neck, which the revelations making by his eyes and teeth proclaim to be a lie, “I am proud to see that my humble offering is graced by Mrs. Dombey’s hand…’

From Our Mutual Friend: “Uncle,” he said daily, laying his hand upon the old man’s shoulder, “what shall I send you home from Barbados?”

From Hard Times: “I certainly, sir,” returned Mrs. Sparsit, with a dignity serenely mournful, “was familiar with the Italian Opera at a very early age.”

From Hard Times: “It is much to be regretted,” said Mrs. Sparsit, making her nose more Roman and her eyebrows more Coriolanian in the strength of her severity, “that the united masters allow of any such class-combinations.’

From Hard Times: “You will understand, Mr. Harthouse,” she returned, after some indecision: she had been more or less uncertain, and troubled throughout the conversation, and yet had in the main preserved her self-contained manner; “you will understand…” 

In his study of Dickens’ novels, Dickens and the Suspended Quotation (1981), Mark Lambert counted all the instances of suspended quotations in each of the novels. Lambert discovered that the number of suspended quotations Dickens used decrease over time in his later novels. Here are the number of suspended quotations in each novel:

Barnaby Rudge: 37.2

Old Curiosity Shop: 35.4

Oliver Twist: 31.2

Dombey and Son: 31

Martin Chuzzlewit: 30

Nicholas Nickleby: 28.8

David Copperfield: 25.6

Pickwick Papers: 24.4

Little Dorrit: 21.8

Great Expectations: 21.3

Bleak House: 21

Hard Times: 20

Our Mutual Friend: 19

Tale of Two Cities: 17.4

Edwin Drood: 13.8

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For further reading: Dickens and the Suspended Quotation by Mark Lambert
The Routledge Handbook of Stylistics by Michael Burke

There Is No Such Thing as a New Idea

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.”

American author and humorist Mark Twain (1835-1910). The quote appears in the biography of Mark Twain written by Albert Bigelow Paine (Volume 3, Part 1, 1900-07). Twain was discussing the copyrighting of ideas with some colleagues during a train ride in 1906. Interestingly, Twain was born just two weeks after Halley’s Comet passed near the Earth in 1835, and he died a day after it approached near the Earth again in 1910, when the comet appeared its brightest in its history (the comet appears every 76 years). And what is truly remarkable is that Twain predicted it; sometime in 1909, the famous author stated: “I came in with Halley’s Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don’t go out with Halley’s Comet. The Almighty has said, no doubt: ‘Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.'”

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Words You Didn’t Realize Were Named After People

alex atkins bookshelf wordsA word named after a person (real or fictional) is called an eponym (from the Greek eponumos, meaning “giving one’s name to someone or something”). Some are fairly obvious, such as sandwich (named after John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich), quixotic (from Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes), or machiavellian (named after Niccolo Machiavelli). However, some eponyms have become so common, that the connection to the person has been lost over time. Here are some words you may not have realized are named after actual people.

boycott: named after Charles Boycott, a British land agent.

bowdlerize: named after English physician, philanthropist, and prude Thomas Bowdler.

decibel: named after Scottish scientist and inventor Alexander Graham Bell who invented the first practical telephone.

diesel: named after German inventor and mechanical engineer Rudolf Christian Karl Diesel.

dunce cap: named after 13th-century philosopher John Duns Scotus. A follower of Duns was known as a “dunce.”

gerrymandering: named after Elbridge Gerry, a governor of Massachusetts.

jumbo: named after a huge elephant who lived in the London Zoo for years, purchased by P.T. Barnum for his traveling circus.

masochism: named after Austrian writer, Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch, who wrote Venus in Furs.

mausoleum: named after Mausolus, a ruler of Caria, a part of the Greek Empire, from 377 to 353 BC. When he died, his widow erected a monumental shrine in his honor, known as the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, that is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

maverick: named after Samuel Maverick, a Texan lawyer, politician, and land baron.

mirandize: named after Ernesto A. Miranda, a laborer convicted (and later overturned, of course) of kidnapping, rape, and armed robbery.

nicotine: named after Jean Nicot de Villemain, the French ambassador to Portugal who sent tobacco and seeds from Portugal to France in the mid 1500s. The intent was for the tobacco plants to be used to ward off the plague.

sadism: named after the Marqui de Sade, a French aristocrat, philosopher, politician, and writer of erotic works.

saxophone: named after Adolphe Sax, a Belgian musical instrument designer.

shrapnel: named after British officer and inventor Major General Henry Shrapnel.

silhouette: named after Etienne de Silhouette, the finance minister of France during the Seven Years’ War.

uzi: named after military weapons designer, Major Uziel Gal of the Israeli Defense Forces following the Arab-Israeli War (1948).

vandal: named after an East Germanic tribe, characterized as barbarians, that sacked and looted Rome in the early 5th century.

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For further reading: Human Words by Robert Hendrickson

The Wisdom of Benjamin Franklin

alex atkins bookshelf wisdom“Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790),” wrote Walter Isaacson, “was the most accomplished American of his age.” If you look up the word polymath (a person of wide-ranging knowledge or learning) — you will find a photo of Franklin. He was a brilliant diplomat and political leader, founding father of the United States, accomplished writer, publisher (Poor Richard’s Almanac), inventor, scientist, and businessman. Over the course of his very rich life, he gained much wisdom. It was in his old age that he observed one of life’s greatest paradoxes: “Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late.” Here is some of his timeless wisdom:

The noblest question in the world is: “What good may I do in it?”

There is too much stress today on material things. I try to teach my children not so much the value of cents, but a sense of values.

While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us.

Having been poor is no shame, but being ashamed of it is.

Money can help you get medicines but not health. Money can help you to get soft pillows, but not sound sleep. Money can help you get material comforts, but not eternal bliss. Money can help you get ornaments, but not beauty. Money will help you to get an electric earphone, but not natural hearing. Attain the supreme wealth, wisdom, and you will have everything.

In dealings between people, truth, sincerity and integrity are of the utmost importance to the felicity of life.

Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom to a
person in the course of their life.

Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.

He does not possess wealth that allows it to possess him.

There are two ways of being happy. We may either diminish our wants or augment our means — either will do — the result is the same. If you are
wise you will do both at the same time; and if you are very wise you will do both in such a way as to augment the general happiness of society.

Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more a man has, the more he wants. Instead of its filling a vacuum, it makes one. If it satisfies one want, it doubles and trebles that want another way.

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For further reading: Benjamin Franklin an American Life by Walter Isaacson


Novels That Are Remakes of Classic Novels

alex atkins bookshelf literatureIf you have ever watched 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), a romantic comedy set at Padua High featuring a rebellious, bossy, snarky teenage girl (Kat Stratford) who intimidates most boys, you begin to recognize the plot. Hey, didn’t William Shakespeare write a play like this? And the answer is yes, since this film is a remake or modern adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew, written four centuries earlier (1590-92). Adaptations also happen in the literary world. Here are some modern novels that are remakes of classic novels:

Going Bovine by Libba Bray – Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang – Ulysses by James Joyce

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi – Snow White by The Brothers Grimm

Dorian, An Imitation by Will SelfThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley – The Tragedy of King Lear by William Shakespeare

Brazil by John Updike – Tristan and Isolde, a Celtic legend from the 12th Century

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That Should Be A Word: Australian Edition

alex atkins bookshelf wordsEngland has the Oxford English Dictionary of British English, America has the Merriam-Webster Dictionary of American English, and Australia has the Macquarie Dictionary, the dictionary of Australian and New Zealand English. The first edition of the Macquarie Dictionary was published in 1981 with a team of lexicographers from the Linguistics department at Macquarie University (Sydney Australia) led by editor Susan Butler. The dictionary has quite a lexicographic pedigree: the first edition is based on Hamlyn’s Encyclopedic World Dictionary (1971), which in turn was based on Random House’s American College Dictionary (1947), which was based on the New Century Dictionary (1927), which was based on the two-volume The Imperial Dictionary of the English Language (1847-1850), which was based (finally!) on Noah Webster’s second edition of the American Dictionary of the English Language (1841). The Macquarie Dictionary is now in its seventh edition.

Like its British and American English counterparts, the Macquarie Dictionary is always evolving, adding new words as they arise in print and online. On their website, they ask Aussie readers to submit words that should be considered for inclusion. Here are some recent words being considered by the editors:

detourism: tavel that is off the beaten track or away from the usual sightseeing destinations

Droste effect: a Dutch art term for when a smaller image appears within itself in a recursive manner (a picture within a picture, as in the work of M. C. Escher)

factflip: when  politician or government changes impending policies because of public pressure

psychobiotics: live bacteria which, when ingested, can manipulate human gut bacteria for mental health benefits

SOML: story of my life

xenofiction: fiction told from the perspective of a nonhuman

zucked: to be banned from Facebook for posting something that conflicts with their guidelines

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What Book Should Every Student Read in 2018?

alex atkins bookshelf booksEach year in the United States, there are 600,000 to 1 million books published each year. Of those, about 50% are self-published titles that sell less than 250 copies. So the book lover’s dilemma — what should I read? — is quite a challenge. But no need to pore over countless book reviews, book blogs, and best-seller lists — why not ask the smartest people on the planet: college professors. The bibliophiles at Business Insider (who knew?) recently asked the brilliant professors at Harvard University: what one book should every student read in 2018? Here are their recommendations.

EJ Corey, organic chemist: Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence by Joseph Aoun. Janet Napolitano, president of University of California writes: “[Aoun’s] book is a thought-provoking analysis of our technology –infused world and higher education’s place in it. Far from fearing the dislocation caused by the increased use of robots and the development of AI, Aoun offers an optimistic, practical view of what higher education can do to prepare the next generation. Anyone interested in higher-education policy will greatly benefit from this cogent, persuasively written work.”

Claudia Goldin, economic historian and labor economist: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: “There is no better novel I know about how women (and I don’t mean just Anna) – elite, intelligent, educated – are ignored, oppressed, and have little legal recourse. Women are the caregivers, the empathetic. They hold society together and provide salvation even as the priests take the credit.”

Stephen Greenblatt, English professor: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson. Incidentally, this book is one of the most popular books assigned as summer reading for incoming freshmen at over 70 colleges in America. Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative to defend those need it most: the indigent, the wrongly condemned, and those trapped in the byzantine and Kafkaesque criminal justice system. Author John Grisham compares it to the timeless legal classic To Kill A Mocking Bird: “Not since Atticus Finch has a fearless and committed lawyer made such a difference in the American South. Though larger than life, Atticus exists only in fiction. Bryan Stevenson, however, is very much alive and doing God’s work fighting for the poor, the oppressed, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the outcast, and those with no hope. Just Mercy is his inspiring and powerful story.” Ted Conniver, from The New York Times Book Review, adds: “You don’t have to read too long to start cheering for this man… The message of this book… is that evil can be overcome, a difference can be made. Just Mercy will make you upset and it will make you hopeful.”

Steven Pinker, psychology professor: The Internationalists: How A Radical Plan to Outlaw War Remade the World by Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro: [The authors] explain the decline of interstate war and conquest [via]… the Kellogg-Briand Paris Peace Pact of 1927, which declared war illegal… [The] book presents a sweeping vision of the international scene, making sense of many developments in the news and recent history.”

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