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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Read related posts: Why Read Dickens?
The Origin of the Name Scrooge
The Inspiration for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol
What is a First Edition of A Christmas Carol Worth?
Words invented by Dickens
Is Dickens Relevant Today?
The Idiosyncrasies of Charles Dickens

For further reading: Dickens and the Suspended Quotation by Mark Lambert
The Routledge Handbook of Stylistics by Michael Burke
http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0963947011432058


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