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A Study in Punctuation
(Noun Absolutes?)
from
The Black Tower, by P.D. James
Analysis Key

     Unlike most textbook grammars (which never get this deep into grammar), in "He saw himself plunging," KISS considers "himself plunging" a noun absolute that functions as a direct object. (He did not just see himself, he saw "himself plunging." For more on this see "Noun Absolutes as Nouns" in KISS Level 5.8.) This passage is particularly interesting in this respect because "plunging" is followed by "climbing . . . and standing," "eating," and "driving," each preceded by a semicolon. Should we not consider all of these part of one long noun absolute? If not, why not? Is there a simpler explanation?
     Note also the basic, but highly varied, parallel construction. Each direct object is an "-ing" verb form, and each is modified in some way by an adverbial clause or by a noun clause that functions as the object of a preposition in an adverbial prepositional phrase.

These early and gentle pictures, {unlike the later harsh black and white stills} 

{from some crude horror films}, were suffused (P) {with colour and feeling 

and smell}. | He saw himself plunging [#1] {through the sea-washed 

shingle} {of Chesil Bank}, his ears loud [#2] {with bird cries and the grating 

thunder} {of the tide} {to [OP where Portland [#3] reared its dark rocks 

(DO) {against the sky}] } ; climbing [#1] the great earthworks (DO of 

"climbing") {of Maiden Castle} and standing [#1], a solitary windblown figure [#4] ,

[Adv. (place) to "standing" where four thousand years {of human history}

were encompassed (P) {in numinous contours} {of moulded earth}] ; eating [#1] 

a late tea  (DO of "eating") [#5] {in Judge Jeffrey's lodgings} {in Dorchester} 

[Adv. (time) to "eating" as the mellow autumn afternoon faded {into dusk}]

driving [#1] {through the night} {between a falling tangle} {of golden bracken and 

high untrimmed hedgerows} {to [OP where the stone-walled pub waited {with 

lighted windows} {on some remote village green}] }. |


Notes
1. See the note above.
2. "Ears loud" is the core of an ellipsed noun absolute ("ears *being* loud") that functions as an adverb to "plunging."
3. This is an interesting personification of the landscape of Portland that adds to the somber and solitary tone of the description.
4. "Figure" is an appositive to the ellipsed "himself" that forms part of the noun absolute "himself . . . climbing."
5. Perhaps this normal in Britain, but to me, "eating . . .  tea" adds to the discordant tone of the passage. There is an underlying irony in Dalgliesh's seeing these early pictures as "gentle."