The KISS Grammar
Joseph Conrad Page
This page was started with exercises on Conrad's
"Lagoon," not because it is one of his better works, but simply because
I was reading various stories that I might use in my "Introduction
to Literature" course, and in that process I read "The Lagoon." The
number of post-positioned adjectives
in it caught my attention, and since the KISS site needed more exercises
on that construction, I decided to use the story here. In the process of
stripping the sentences used in those exercises out of the story, I also
collected other sentences for some additional exercises.
A Study in Style - Tight,
As noted above, these exercises originated
in my noticing numerous post-positioned adjectives in this story. As I
stripped the text (by selecting sentences with post-positioned adjectives),
I also gathered sentences for other constructions, and in so doing, I collected
the sentences in the following exercises. I set up the following list,
looked at it, and noted that the majority of the constructions listed add
tightness or "muscle" to the texture of the prose. By that I mean that
they involve reductions of clauses--the linking words are left out. As
another example, a palimpsest pattern writes one sentence over another,
thereby reducing the number of words required to say the same thing. Conrad
"The land and the water slept invisible,
unstirring and mute."
Written separately, his ten words require twelve:
"The land and the water slept. *They were*
invisible, unstirring and mute."
That may not seem like much of a difference, but it is a twenty percent
increase in length, and the real difference appears in the frequency with
which Conrad uses these constructions.
The question of a "tight" style begs for statistical
analyses to support any claims, but such analyses take lots of time, and
the KISS site does not yet have enough background studies against which
to measure Conrad's style in this way. If, however, you have analyzed a
fair number of sentences using the KISS approach, you probably will not
need statistical background to convince you of the tightness of Conrad's
style when you analyze these exercises.
Tightness is also achieved by the gerundives, post-positioned
adjectives, appositives, and noun absolutes. Not every one of these constructions
that appear in these exercises can, or normally would, be stylistically
rewritten as longer sentences, but most of them can be. Consider the gerundives.
"The creek broadened, opening out into a
wide sweep of a stagnant lagoon."
Those thirteen words would be fourteen if, instead of the gerundive, he
had used compound verbs:
"The creek broadened *and* opened
out into a wide sweep of a stagnant lagoon."
In some cases, a looser style would use subordinate clauses in place of
"A little house, perched on high piles, appeared
black in the distance."
These twelve words would have taken fourteen to say the same thing, if
Conrad had used an adjectival clause:
"A little house, *which was* perched
on high piles, appeared black in the distance."
Similarly, post-positioned adjectives are reductions,
Conrad's eight words,
"Then we found a place deserted and silent."
would have taken ten, had he written it with a subordinate clause:
"Then we found a place *that was*
deserted and silent."
Of course he could have written it with the adjectives in the normal, pre-noun
"Then we found a deserted and silent place."
But most readers will probably agree that the post-positioning adds emphasis,
adds weight, adds muscle to the desertion and silence. And again, we are
talking of one example.
One of the really interesting aspects of this
view of Conrad's style is the number of sentences that include both post-positioned
adjectives and appositives. Appositives themselves are "tight" constructions.
They derive from the reduction of a clause. Conrad's
"Arsat rose and stood, an indistinct and
above the dying embers of the fire."
is a reduction of
"Arsat rose and stood. *He was* an
indistinct and silent
figure above the dying embers of the fire."
But in this set of exercises you will find many sentences
that include both appositives and post-positioned adjectives, indeed, appositives
that are modified by post-positioned adjectives:
"Only far away the tops of the trees stood
outlined on the twinkle of heaven,
like a sombre and forbidding shore—a coast deceptive,
pitiless and black."
The appositive could be written as a separate sentence:
"*It was* a coast deceptive, pitiless
and the post-positioned adjectives could have been
written as a subordinate clause:
"It was a coast *that was* deceptive,
pitiless and black."
Most of the noun absolutes
in the story function as nouns, but they still reduce the length of, and
thus tighten, the text. Conrad's
"I heard him calling my name again with a
could have been written as:
"I heard him. *He was* calling my
name again with a great shriek..."
The constructions above all reduce the text by the omission of coordinating
conjunctions, pronouns, and usually by forms of the verb "to be." In other
words, connecting words are reduced, leaving in the text the words that
convey substance. In addition, we need to remember that the subordination
itself, the gerundives, post-positioned adjectives, appositives, and noun
absolutes, add textural depth to the style, as opposed to a straight main-clause
The text is further tightened by the ellipsis
and punctuation. Although much of this involves the semicolon (See the
"Study in Punctuation and Ellipsis," below.), Conrad's occasional fragment
adds tension, as when he omits the understood subject:
"They brought news, too. Brought lies and
truth mixed together,
so that no man knew when to rejoice and when
to be sorry."
My guess is that some people who study this story and these exercises will,
having analyzed other texts, sense the tightness I have tried to describe.
Proof would really rest in a statistical analysis of this text against
a background, a statistical database of other authors and texts. Any volunteers?
Patterns, Ex # 1
Ex # 2
Ex # 1 [Simple]
|Gerundives, Ex # 3 [Moderate
|Gerundives, Ex # 4 [Advanced]
Adjectives, Ex # 1 [Simple]
Ex # 2 [Moderate]
Ex # 3 [Include Appositives]
Ex # 1 [Moderate]
|Appositives, Ex #
Absolutes - Adverbial
as Nouns, Ex # 1 [Simple]
as Nouns, Ex # 2 [Moderate]
as Nouns, Ex # 3 [Advanced]
Study in Punctuation and Ellipsis