Margery On Words

‘Everything shone’

Margery had a talent for putting the most impact into the fewest words. When she describes the mood of the magnificent Sylvester women as having reached a ‘solar pitch of stately jollification’, this powerful and delightful image stays with us throughout the book, and we remain confident that the Sylvester women will rise massively and good-naturedly to any occasion.

‘Everything dripped’

Regarding a handsome young man without money or prospects, (that pivotal figure in British fiction–where would it be without him?) Margery merely sums him up as a ‘fascinating detrimental’, and, thus disposed of, we move on with the real story.

‘Everything sparkled’

Margery’s prose was often likened to a gem; pristine, and multi-faceted, its chief value measured in the light it reflects. ‘Mr. Laventie sat absolutely expressionless, save for an occasional twitching of his fine ironic lips, one arm flung over the back of his chair: a pose intended to convey that he could with one light epigram destroy all this crazy edifice of home-cured philosophy.’

There, in an efficient sketch, she neatly sums up everything we need to know about Mr. Laventie, (Rhododendron Pie) including his lifes’ work.

Her feeling for the sound and texture of words is conveyed tenderly through the medium of the simple child, Antoinette, (in The Innocents) whose vocabulary consists of three precious words.

‘[Antoinette] appeared to like the word [tureen] for itself, for its soothing, crooning sound. (“Tureen, tureen!” I once heard her cajole a hedgehog.) Obviously she made no connection between sound and content; another word she liked was “vermin,” overheard during an argument with my gardener on the subject of moletraps. And indeed, for sound, what word is prettier–the soft opening v that begins also violets, and velvet, and voluptuousness, then the tender dying fall that concludes?’

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