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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. 
"The Lagoon" Click here for the complete text.
This story and exercises are available as a printable workbook. 
See the "Printable Workbooks" page.

A Study in Style - Tight, Muscular Prose

     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 wrote,

"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. Conrad wrote, 
"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 the gerundive:
"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 position:
"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 silent figure 
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 black."
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 great shriek..."
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 presentation.

     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?
Palimpsest Patterns, Ex # 1 AK G10 L2.1.4 Palimpsest
Palimpsest Patterns, Ex # 2 AK G10 "
Gerundives, Ex # 1 [Simple] AK G11 L4.1 Gerundives
Gerundives, Ex # 3 [Moderate Complexity] AK 1YM "
Gerundives, Ex # 4 [Advanced] AK G11 "
Post-Positioned Adjectives, Ex # 1 [Simple] AK - L5.5 PPA
Post-Positioned Adjectives, Ex # 2 [Moderate] AK G11 "
Post-Positioned Adjectives, Ex # 3 [Include Appositives] AK G11 "
Appositives, Ex # 1 [Moderate] AK G11 L5.4 App
Appositives, Ex # 2 [Advanced] AK G11 L5.4 App
Noun Absolutes - Adverbial AK G11 L5.8 NAbs-Adv
Noun Absolutes as Nouns, Ex # 1 [Simple] AK G11 L5.8 NAbs-N
Noun Absolutes as Nouns, Ex # 2 [Moderate] AK - "
Noun Absolutes as Nouns, Ex # 3 [Advanced] AK G11 "
A Study in Punctuation and Ellipsis AK - Punctuation