Decorative Initial T

wo examples of description appear near the opening of The Shaving of Shagpat. The first concerns the city where our hero will encounter his main antagonist, and Meredith describes it somewhat differently than Gaskell and MacDonald present their settings: "Now, he came to a knoll of sand under a palm, from which the yellow domes and mosques of the city of Shagpat, and its black cypresses, and marble palace fronts, and shining pillars, and lofty carven arches that spanned half-circles of the hot grey sky, were plainly visible." Like these other authors, Meredith presents his description as part of a narrative of the protagonist's experience. Unlike them, however, he does not turn description itself into narrative by dramatizing the viewer's movements through the scene. In other words, rather than create a word-painting in the manner of Radcliffe or Ruskin, Meredith employs an additive style that heaps one detail on top of another. How does this style relate to parataxis?

A paragraph later, Meredith presents Shibli's encounter with an old crone, who turns out to be the heroine Noorna before her rescue from a curse:

Now, as he was in the pits of despondency, even as one that yieldeth without further struggle to the waves of tempest at midnight, when he was ware of one standing over him, — a woman, old, wrinkled, a very crone, with but room for the drawing of a thread between her nose and her chin; she was, as is cited of them who betray the doings of Time, Wrinkled at the rind, and overripe at the core, and every part of her nodded and shook like a tree sapped by the waters, and her jointed were sharp as the kind-legs of a grasshopper; she was indeed one close-wrecked upon the rocks of Time. [Chapter 1, "The Thwackings," boldface type added]

Note that this description of Noorna depends almost entirely on analogies and conceits rather than on visual elements and that the primary technique here, as throughout much of the fantasy, is that of the simile. Note, too, that such use of similes and conceits creates the effect of an oral rather than a written literature. Why?

What can we conclude from the images of shipwreck and castaway used here for both the hero and heroine?

Finally, who are those "who betray the doings of Time"? Is that betrayal a bad thing, and how is it done?


Victorian
Overview George Meredith

Last modified 2002