All posts by MJN


“One day the good journal announced a special offer of eight thousand rupees. It excited Rama Rao’s vision of a future tenfold. He studied the puzzle. There were only four doubtful corners in it, and he might have to send in at least four entries. A larger outlay was indicated. ‘You must give me five rupees this time,’ he said to his wife, at which that good lady became speechless. He had become rather insensitive to such things these days, but even he could help feeling the atrocious nature of his demand. Five rupees were nearly a week;s food for the family. He felt disturbed for a moment; but he had only to turn his attention to speculate whether HOPE or DOPE or ROPE made most sense (for “Some People Prefer This to Despair”), and his mind was at once at rest.”

-R.K. Narayan, “Out of Business”

Notes: I feel a very strong sense of irony in this passage. Rama Rao’s desperate hope that he will win a large prize from these puzzles seems especially absurd when juxtaposed against the alternatives of dope or rope (connoting substance abuse or suicide, respectively).

Filthy Nobility

“The blood in Bakha’s veins tingled with the heat as he stood before it. His dark face, round and solid and exquisitely well defined, lit with a queer sort of beauty. The toil of the body had built up for him a very fine physique. It seemed to suit him, to give a homogeneity, a wonderful wholeness to his body, so that you could turn round and say: ‘Here is a man.’ And it seemed to give him a nobility, strangely in contrast with his filthy profession and with the sub-human status to which he was condemned from birth.”

Mulk Raj Anand, “Untouchable,” (New York: Penguin Books, 1930), 20.

Notes:  self-conscious irony, ‘homogeneity’ and ‘wholeness’


“I strike at them, striking, they wheeling in a long lunge, the buggy wheeling onto two wheels and motionless like it is nailed to the ground and the horses motionless like they are nailed by the hind feet to the center of a whirling plate.”

William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying, The Modern Library Editions, 2000

Notes: alliteration, repitition

Living in the Past

“There was Regent’s Park. Yes. As a child he had walked in Regent’s Park – odd, he thought, how the thought of childhood keeps coming back to me – the result of seeing Clarissa, perhaps; for women live much more in the past than we do, he thought. They attach themselves to places; and their fathers – a woman’s always proud of her father. Bourton was a nice place, a very nice place, but I could never got on with the old man, he thought. There was quite a scene one night – an argument about something or other, what, he could not remember. Politics presumably.”

Woolf, V. (1925). Mrs. Dalloway.  New York: Harcourt.

Notes: Irony; direct, indirect, and free indirect discourse; “voice”.

The need for thinking, left behind.

The ground rose, wooded and sandy, to overlook the meadow, the stretch of river and the swamp. Nick dropped his pack and rod-case and looked for a level piece of ground. He was very hungry and he wanted to make his camp before he cooked. Between two jack pines, the ground was quite level. He took the ax out of the pack and chopped out two projecting roots. That leveled a piece of ground large enough to sleep on. He smoothed out the sandy soil with his hands and pulled all the sweet fern bushes by their roots. His hands smelled good from the sweet fern. He smoothed the uprooted earth. He did not want anything making lumps under the blankets. When he had the ground smooth, he spread his three blankets. One he folded double, next to the ground. The other two he spread on top.


Hemingway, Ernest. In Our Time. New York; Scribner, 2003.

Notes: There is an overabundance of action, but what does it all achieve? The myriad descriptions of physical actions recall the feeling Nick has that he has left “the need for thinking” behind.

Spirited away

He paused, and added:
“He did all that, and unless he had nothing at stake, he had everything at stake. Either Sir Reuben Levy has been spirited away for some silly practical joke, or the man with the auburn hair has the guilt of murder upon his soul.”
“Dear me!” ejaculated the detective, “you’re very dramatic about it.”
Lord Peter passed his hand rather wearily over his hair.
“My true friend,” he murmured in a voice surcharged with emotion, “you recall me to the nursery rhymes of my youth — the sacred duty of flippancy:

There was an old man of Whitehaven
Who danced a quadrille with a raven,
But they said: It’s absurd
To encourage that bird–
So they smashed that old man of Whitehaven


Notes (more like questions): “sacred duty of flippancy” – how ironic is this passage? How dramatic is this passage really, when the detective calls out Lord Peter for his “voice surcharged with emotion”?


In these days Melanctha talked and stood and walked with many kinds of men, but she did not learn to know any of them very deeply. They all supposed her to have world knowledge and experience. They, believing that she knew all, told her nothing, and thinking that she was deciding with them, asked for nothing, and so though Melanctha wandered widely, she was really very safe with all the wandering.

Melanctha Herbert wanted very much to know and yet she feared the knowledge. As she grew older she often stayed a good deal longer, and sometimes it was almost a balanced struggle, but she always made herself escape.

Stein, Gertrude. Three Lives. New York: Grafton Press, 1909;, 2000.

It’s all in his head.

She spoke with an earnestness which, as if almost excessive, put him at ease about her possible derision. Somehow the whole question was a new luxury to him — that is, from the moment she was in possession. If she didn’t take the ironic view she clearly took the sympathetic, and that was what he had had, in all the long time, from no one whomsoever. What he felt was that he couldn’t at present have begun to tell her and yet could profit perhaps exquisitely by the accident of having done so of old. “Please don’t then. We’re just right as it is.” (197)

James, Henry. “The Beast in the Jungle.” In The Better Sort. New York: Scribner, 1903. Internet Archive.

Notes: How close does James come to “really representing life”? James uses a free, indirect style of narration to bring us inside Marcher’s head, how closely does this style reflect his critical prescriptions?