Unsleeping Beauty

If you’re going to use a word like ratiocination more than once in a book—five times, for example—you might try to gussy it up a bit for its assorted recurrences: not just plain old ratiocination every go-round, but maybe an “amazed and fumbling ratiocination” once in a while for variety’s sake.  But, then, I probably shouldn’t say “variety’s sake,” considering how much amazement there is in Absalom, Absalom!

Miss Coldfield from Chapter 1, as has been noted, has a grim voice—or, to be more specific (or, at least, more prolix), a “grim haggard amazed voice.”  Which puts it in the same category as the book’s numerous other amazed elements, such as “amazed determination,” “amazed speculation,” “amazed outrage,” “amazed recapitulation,” “amazed self-pity,” “amazed and tearless grief,” “amazed and passive uncomprehension,” and an “amazed and desperate child.”

Amazement, it seems, is a very nuanced thing—who knew it had so many fine shadings?  “Unbearable amazement,” “tentative amazement,” “embittered amazement,” “shocked amazement,” “uncomprehending amazement,” “aghast amazement,” “unalarmed amazement,” “erudite amazement,” and, lastly—anticlimax alert—“mere amazement.”

One other amazing bit of usage to raise the eyebrow comes at the beginning of this sentence: “Then in the long unamaze Quentin seemed to watch them overrun suddenly the hundred square miles of tranquil and astonished earth….”*  If you read that and thought, “‘Then in the long ’… what ?,” then you and my spell-check have something in common: unamaze is a new one on it, too, just as it is a bit puzzled by the likes of Faulkner’s undefeat and unregret.  And, while we’re at it—although they do not all turn up a goose egg in a dictionary search, together they certainly constitute an odd linguistic tic—unbelief, unchastity, undreaming, unkin, unorganism, and unvolition.  Plus such un-adjectives as unbrided, uncomplex, unchinked, unfree, unmaimed, unmediant, unobscure, unpaced, unrancorous, unrational, unravished, unreally**, unscarified, and unsistered.  (No, that first adjective is not unbridled, i.e., a word anyone has actually heard of, but instead in reference to “unbrided widows.”)

Unbelief, undefeat, and unregret are the favorites among these, appearing each more than once, but the alpha in this pack of underdogs has to be unsleeping—“unsleeping itch,” “unsleeping viciousness,” “unsleeping candle,” “unsleeping blood,” “unsleeping cabal”…“unsleeping care” is thought of highly enough to be pressed into service in both Chapters 2 and 4.  Unsleeping also pairs up with a fellow un-gerund for the spaghetti-western lineup of “the hate and the fury and the unsleeping and the unforgiving,” and, with its close cousin unasleep, even manages a multiple showing within a single sentence:

Yes, sleeping in the trundle bed beside Judith’s, beside…the Negress who…slept on a pallet on the floor, the child lying there between them unasleep in some hiatus of passive and hopeless despair…lying there unsleeping in the dark between them, feeling them unasleep too….

As the ellipses suggest, the above is whittled down (you’re welcome) from a much longer sentence—much, much longer, about 425 words or so (possibly even more, depending, as mentioned elsewhere, on how you interpret Absalom!’s wonky punctuation).  So maybe I shouldn’t tease: within the space of that many words, perhaps some vocabulary repetition is unevitable.


*One of the book’s eight uses of the word tranquil, but that can wait for another day.

**Unreally?  Really?

One comment on “Unsleeping Beauty

  1. Pook says:

    “unmediant” – are you kidding? ARE YOU KIDDING?

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