McPhee and His Lists

Michael A. Talis, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

The authors of this semester's texts have used any number of methods to establish themselves as trustworthy voices in their writing. Some have argued the case at the outset of a speech while others have been more subtle about it. Many in our class would say that John McPhee, with his soft-spoken and even-handed approach to writing, belongs to the latter group. But, as we examine McPhee's frequent use of lists throughout The Crofter and the Laird, we may want to reconsider where on this spectrum he falls. Could the list be as obnoxious or as frustrating a device as Lawrence's sweeping generalizations?

Almost every rise of ground, every beach, field, cliff, gully, cave, and skerry has a name. There are 138 people on Colonsay, and nearly 1600 place names. In the time of the chiefs and before the age of formal crofting, men used to climb hills in the spring and decide who, this year, would use what pieces of ground, and where, at the water's edge, they would fish. Their eye for minor landmarks became acute -- Murach Mor (the Big Bent-Cvered Hillock), Aodann Mor Thurnigil (the Big Rock Face at Twisting Gully), Tean-ga na Dubhaird (the Tongue of the Black Cape) . . . [54-55, list continues almost two full pages]

A few questions...

Maybe the "mysterioso" stuff is a lot of garbage, but still, it is interesting. The surfers around the Pump House use that word, mysterioso, quite a lot. It refers to the mystery of the Oh Mighty Hulking Pacific Ocean and everything. Sometimes a guy will stare at the surf and say, "Mysterioso." They keep telling the story of Bob Simmons' wipeout, and somebody will say "mysterioso." (27)


Victorian Web Overview John McPhee Victorian courses

April 2002