Saturday, December 26, 2020

"Would quit Kellnych Hall": From the conditional to the indicative in "Persuasion"

In Jane Austen's "Persuasion", Sir Walter Elliot reads Lady Russell's suggestions to "retrench" to pay off his debts – and dismisses them: "He would sooner quit Kellynch Hall at once, than remain in it on such disgraceful terms." But Sir Walter's agent, Mr. Shepherd, interprets this  refusal as a possibility, and shortly thereafter the "quitting" is no longer conditional: "Sir Walter would quit Kellynch Hall". The first "would quit" is the conditional form in present-tense dialogue; the second is the past tense of "will" in the narrative, and  what "would" be denied becomes what "will" be done. The conditional, that is, creates an opportunity for interpretation – both in and of the novel. (Andrew Shields, #111words, 26 December)

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