A Linguistic Analysis of a Passage of Wolf Hall

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Analysis of Style in Wolf Hall

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I have annotated one of the passages that Ron was criticizing as bad style. The issue I address is how to decode the referents of pronouns. I will let you draw your own conclusions. You might want to try your hand at rewriting the passage trying to maintain the imagery and intimacy. One obvious approach is to substitute a proper name every so often.
I am always amazed at what our brains can do without our being aware, until awareness is forced on us by reading a passage such as this one.
Cranmer smiles. “Twenty-six years.”
[Cromwell is talking with Dr. Cranmer after talking with one of John Seymour’s daughters. They are leaving and talking between themselves.]
They are both dressed for riding. “You are going back to Cambridge today?” [WHO IS SPEAKING? CROMWELL. HOW DO WE KNOW? TURN TAKING: CRANMER WAS THE LAST TO SPEAK.]
“Not to stay. The family”— the Boleyns, he [WHO IS HE? CRANMER. HOW DO WE KNOW? HE REFERS TO SPEAKER. BECAUSE IS FROM NARRATOR’S POINT OF VIEW. HOW DO WE KNOW THAT? OUTSIDE QUOTES AND INSIDE DASHES AND INSERTED TO CLARIFY THE QUOTED MATERIAL.] means—“want to have me at hand. And you, Master Cromwell?” [CRANMER IS SPEAKING. HOW DO WE KNOW? IT IS HIS TURN AND HE IS EXPLICITLY ADDRESSES CROMWELL.]
“A private client. I can’t make a living from Lady Anne’s black looks.” [CROMWELL IS SPEAKING. HDWK? IT IS HIS TURN AND HE WAS ASKED TO RESPOND EXPLICITLY BY CRANMER.]
Boys wait with their [THEIR REFERS TO CRANMER AND CROMWELL. HDWK? THESE TWO ARE THE ONLY ONES IN THE SCENE NOW EXCEPT FOR THE BOYS JUST MENTIONED. THE OTHER POSSIBILITY IS THAT THEIR REFERS TO THE BOYS.THIS LATTER IS SYNTACTICALLY PREFERRED AS SUBJECT OF THE SENTENCE AND, THUS, IS THE FIRST INTERPRETATION TO CONSIDER. WE REJECT THAT INTERPRETATION, BECAUSE WE HAVE KNOWLEDGE: BOYS DON’T OWN HORSES; BOYS IS A TYPICAL WAY TO REFER TO SERVANTS; CRANMER AND CROMWELL OWN HORSES; A TYPICAL SUB-SCENE IN SUCH SITUATIONS IS SERVANTS WAITING WITH HORSES OF THE MASTERS. HENCE, WE REJECT BOYS AS THE REFERENT AND CONSIDER THE NEXT REFERENT IN THE SYNTACTIC RANKING. WE KNOW CRANMER AND CROMWELL HAVE HORSES. THAT WORKS. WE GO WITH THEIR REFERRING TO CRANMER AND CROMWELL.] horses. From various folds of his [HIS REFERS TO CRANMER. REFERRING FORWARD TO THE SUBJECT FROM AN ADVERBIAL PHRASE IS A TYPICAL SYNTACTIC STRATEGY AND PRODUCING OBJECTS FROM FOLDS OF GARMENTS IS A TYPICAL SUB-SCENE.] garments Dr. Cranmer produces objects wrapped in cloth. One of them is a carrot cut carefully lengthways, and another a wizened apple, quartered. As if he [HE REFERS TO CRANMER. CRANMER WAS THE SUBJECT OF THE PRECEDING SENTENCE, HENCE SYNTACTICALLY PREFERRED. IT IS AWKWARD THAT WE HAVE TO WAIT SO LONG FOR SEMANTIC CONFIRMATION.] were a child, fair-minded with a treat, he [HE REFERRINGTO CRANMER IS SYNTACTICALLY PREFERRED, SINCE IT CONTINUES THE LAST REFERENT OF HE. STILL NO SEMANTIC CONFIRMATION!] gives him [HIM, AS OPPOSED TO HIMSELF, REQUIRES REFERENCE TO A DIFFERENT REFERENT FROM THE SUBJECT OF THE SENTENCE; THUS, IT WOULD BE CROMWELL. BUT STILL NO CORFIRMATION. AND WE HAVE A COMPLEX EDIFICE OF SYNTACTIC PREFERENCES WE HAVE TO CARRY ALONG!] two slices of carrot and half the apple, to feed to his own [HIS OWN REFERS TO CRANMER, WITHIN THE SO FAR SYNTACTICALLY PREFERRED READING.] horse; as he [HE PREFERS SYNTACTICALLY TO REFER THE SUBJECT OF GIVES, I.E., CRANMER. THE REFERENTIAL EDIFICE WE ARE BUILDING INCREASES IN COMPLEXITY WITH NO CONFIRMATION SO FAR.] does so, he [SIMILARLY, THIS HE REFERS TO CRANMER.] says, “You owe much to Anne Boleyn. More than perhaps you think. She has formed a good opinion of you. I’m not sure she cares to be your sister-in-law, mind . . .” [FINALLY WE HAVE CONFIRMATION OF OUR EDIFICE CONSTRUCTED PRIMARILY ON SYNTACTIC GROUNDS. WE NEED TO ASSOCIATE YOU, THE ADDRESSEE, WITH CROMWELL ON SYNTACTIC GROUNDS. THEN THE RESOLUTION: YOUR SISTER-IN-LAW. IT HINGES ON WHICH ONE COULD HAVE HER AS A SISTER-IN-LAW. THUS, OUR SYNTACTIC EDIFICE IS CONFIRMED. WHEW!!!]
Mantel, Hilary (2009-10-13). Wolf Hall: A Novel (p. 245). Picador. Kindle Edition.

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