Literary Perfection

Discussion in 'CycleChat Cafe' started by theclaud, 15 Apr 2010.

  1. theclaud

    theclaud It's teeceegawnmaaaad

    "I wish I'd written that" is something I am occasionally moved to respond to a particularly insightful or well-judged post on Cycle Chat. But which piece of writing is, for you, so flawlessly brilliant that you are obliged to stare at it until you go a bit odd, simultaneously fascinated and disconcerted by its unbearable perfection? Pick a short passage and dazzle us! Mine is the slaying of Verloc from Chapter 11 of The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad.

    "Come here," he said in a peculiar tone, which might have been the tone of brutality, but was intimately known to Mrs Verloc as the note of wooing.

    She started forward at once, as if she were still a loyal woman bound to that man by an unbroken contract. Her right hand skimmed slightly the end of the table, and when she had passed on towards the sofa the carving knife had vanished without the slightest sound from the side of the dish. Mr Verloc heard the creaky plank in the floor, and was content. He waited. Mrs Verloc was coming. As if the homeless soul of Stevie had flown for shelter straight to the breast of his sister, guardian and protector, the resemblance of her face with that of her brother grew at every step, even to the droop of the lower lip, even to the slight divergence of the eyes. But Mr Verloc did not see that. He was lying on his back and staring upwards. He saw partly on the ceiling and partly on the wall the moving shadow of an arm with a clenched hand holding a carving knife. It flickered up and down. Its movements were leisurely. They were leisurely enough for Mr Verloc to recognise the limb and the weapon.

    They were leisurely enough for him to take in the full meaning of the portent, and to taste the flavour of death rising in his gorge. His wife had gone raving mad - murdering mad. They were leisurely enough for the first paralysing effect of this discovery to pass away before a resolute determination to come out victorious from the ghastly struggle with that armed lunatic. They were leisurely enough for Mr Verloc to elaborate a plan of defence involving a dash behind the table, and the felling of the woman to the ground with a heavy wooden chair. But they were not leisurely enough to allow Mr Verloc the time to move either hand or foot. The knife was already planted in his breast. It met no resistance on its way. Hazard has such accuracies. Into that plunging blow, delivered over the side of the couch, Mrs Verloc had put all the inheritance of her immemorial and obscure descent, the simple ferocity of the age of caverns, and the unbalanced nervous fury of the age of bar-rooms. Mr Verloc, the Secret Agent, turning slightly on his side with the force of the blow, expired without stirring a limb, in the muttered sound of the word "Don't" by way of protest.
  2. Bollo

    Bollo Failed Tech Bro

    Joseph Conrad - The Secret Agent

    and I claim my five pounds!
  3. Bollo can read and ICMFP also :laugh: (Typical violent oppression of males by females BTW...:biggrin:)
  4. swee'pea99

    swee'pea99 Legendary Member

    "Most of the big shore places were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a ferryboat across the Sound. And as the moon rose higher the inessential houses began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old island here that flowered once for Dutch sailors’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished trees, the trees that had made way for Gatsby’s house, had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of this continent, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder."
  5. OP

    theclaud It's teeceegawnmaaaad

    :sad: But of course! Where's Linf when you need him?
  6. GrumpyGregry

    GrumpyGregry Here for rides.

    With immense labour and immense patience they extricated from the long day the grain of pleasure: this sun, the music, the rattle of the miniature cars, the ghost train diving between the grinning skeletons under the Aquarium promenade, the sticks of Brighton rock, the paper sailors' caps.

    Brighton Rock, Graham Greene

    Maybe you have to be a Catholic from Sussex to appreciate the book properly.:laugh:
  7. Arch

    Arch Married to Night Train

    Salford, UK
    "Knees are hurting less now, but I know the clock is still closing on me. I envy the river, which now sits to my right, idly checking off a schedule that features a single entry, some 5000 years from now; "Ox-bow lake?" "

    I'm with Lee on this one....

    I don't have the text to hand, but there's a passage in Dorothy L Sayers' Gaundy Night, where Harriet sits watching Lord Peter reading, in a punt, and sees him in minute detail and realises that yes, she really is in love with him, and then he looks up to see her looking at him and she blushes. Just gorgeous.
  8. Dayvo

    Dayvo Just passin' through

    From my favourite book of all time: Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.

    "Writing is good, thinking is better. Cleverness is good, patience is better."
  9. Cathryn

    Cathryn California Correspondant

    EM Forster with a view.

    They were heavy curtains, reaching almost to the ground, and the light that filtered through them was subdued and varied. A poet—none was present—might have quoted, "Life like a dome of many coloured glass," or might have compared the curtains to sluice-gates, lowered against the intolerable tides of heaven. Without was poured a sea of radiance; within, the glory, though visible, was tempered to the capacities of man.

    The first time I read these sentences I had to stop and reread about 8 times, I was so moved by the sheer beauty of those words.
  10. Bollo

    Bollo Failed Tech Bro

    :blush:Read t'claud's OP on the ipod and missed the bit where she clearly stated the source text. The eyes are failing by the day.......

    I spotted it because I've just reread 'The Secret Agent' after a couple of years break. Without spoiling the plot, even Linf would have to admit that Mr Verloc probably deserved it.
  11. Globalti

    Globalti Legendary Member

    This is from Robert M. Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It's one of several passages from the book that I admire for their succinctness, their clarity and for the way Pirsig puts into words what I knew instinctively from the day I started bodging bicycles and motorbikes. I love American technical writing for its gentle wit and humour; it's not beautiful or sensitive but it is supremely clear, humane and purposeful:

    "The mechanic's feel comes from a deep inner kinesthetic feeling for the elasticity of materials. Some materials, like ceramics, have very little, so that when you thread a porcelain fitting you're very careful not to apply great pressures. Other materials, like steel, have tremendous elasticity, more than rubber, but in a range in which, unless you're working with large mechanical forces, the elasticity isn't apparent.

    With nuts and bolts you're in the range of large mechanical forces and you should understand that within these ranges metals are elastic. When you take up a nut there's a point called "finger-tight" where there's contact but no takeup of elasticity. Then there's "snug", in which the easy surface elasticity is taken up. Then there's a range called "tight", in which all the elasticity is taken up. The force required to reach these three points is different for each size of nut and bolt, and different for lubricated bolts and for locknuts. The forces are different for steel and for cast iron and brass and aluminium and plastics and ceramics. But a person with mechanic's feel knows when something's tight and stops. A person without it goes right on past and strips the threads or breaks the assembly.

    A "mechanic's feel" implies not only an understanding for the elasticity of metal but for its softness. The insides of a motorcycle contain surfaces that are precise in some cases to as little as one ten-thousandth of an inch. If you drop them or get dirt on them or scratch them or bang them with a hammer they'll lose that precision. It's important to understand that the metal behind the surfaces can normally take great shock and stress but that the surfaces themselves cannot. When handling precision parts that are stuck or difficult to manipulate, a person with mechanic's feel will avoid damaging the surfaces and work with his tools on the nonprecision surfaces of the same part whenever possible. If he must work on the surfaces themselves, he'll always use softer surfaces to work them with. Brass hammers, plastic hammers, wood hammers, rubber hammers and lead hammers are all available for this work. Use them. Vise jaws can be fitted with plastic and copper and lead faces. Use these too. Handle precision parts gently. You'll never be sorry. If you have a tendency to bang things around, take more time and try to develop a little more respect for the accomplishment that a precision part represents."

  12. Hover Fly

    Hover Fly Lover of the bunny

    Or, as an ex-foreman of mine put it more succinctly, talking to a new-start who was pushing on a spanner, "Where did you serve your time? Barclay's ****ing bank?"
  13. ;) - yes - I miss bits off when 'on the phone to CC HQ' - now, Janet and John...hmmm
  14. rich p

    rich p ridiculous old lush

    " I rolled up a piece of waste paper into a ball and threw it into a bin at the first attempt"

    Littery perfection:wacko:
  15. TheDoctor

    TheDoctor Resistance is futile! Moderator

    "Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French."

    P G Wodehouse. What a writer:biggrin:
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