Friday, October 21, 2016

Moments in Fiction: Clever and Humorous Descriptions

Here I am with another Moments in Fiction post.  I've called this edition "Clever and Humorous Descriptions" because the excerpts here included are...just that.  Clever and humorous descriptions.  What I mean is, it's not so much the subject itself that is hilarious in these passages, as it is the way the author chooses to describe it.  

Now you may not find these selections as diverting as I did (though if that be the case, I must ask, where's your sense of humor?  --Haha! Jut kidding) but I do hope they will prove of some interest to one or another of you.  And particularly to you, Cordy, as this is the post I promised you months ago.  (Sorry it's taken me so long to actually publish it.  Procrastination really is a thing!  Also lack of get the idea.) 

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

After a proper resistance on the part of Mrs. Ferrars, just so violent and so steady as to preserve her from that reproach which she always seemed fearful of incurring, the reproach of being too amiable, Edward was admitted to her presence, and pronounced to be again her son.
     Her family had of late been exceedingly fluctuating.  For many years of her life she had had two sons; but the crime and annihilation of Edward, a few weeks ago, had robbed her of one; the similar annihilation of Robert had left her for a fortnight without any; and now, by the resuscitation of Edward, she had one again.
     In spite of his being allowed once more to live, however, he did not feel the continuance of his existence secure, till he revealed his present engagement; for the publication of that circumstance, he feared might give a sudden turn to his constitution, and carry him off as rapidly as before.

Okay, so I hardly know what to say about this, except that, goodness me! This is my kind of humor!  Such creative cleverness to liken Edward's disinherited state to a state of actual decease, and to talk of the publication of his most recent engagement as possibly giving a "sudden turn to his constitution, and [carrying] him off as rapidly as before." *amused chuckle* Seriously, who writes stuff like that?  Precious few of our modern day authors, I'd say.  And it's such a shame because this kind of description adds so much personality to a story (in my humble opinion).  It can turn the most commonplace description into a delightful treat! 


Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell

In the luxurious library, at the well-spread breakfast-table, sat the two Mr. Carsons, father and son.  Both were reading--the father a newspaper, the son a review--while they lazily enjoyed their nicely prepared food.  The father was a prepossessing-looking old man; perhaps self-indulgent you might guess.  The son was strikingly handsome, and knew it.  His dress was neat and well appointed, and his manners far more gentlemanly than his father's.  He was the only son, and his sisters were proud of him; his father and mother were proud of him; he could not set up his judgment against theirs; he was proud of himself.

I don't know about you, but I literally laughed out loud when I came to the end of that last sentence.  It took me so by surprise.  I just love the way Elizabeth Gaskell chose to describe this character, because honestly, she could have kept it simple and merely written, "His sisters were proud of him; his father and mother were proud of him; and he was proud of himself."  But would that have been as interesting?  No indeed!  By adding in that little jab regarding his unwillingness to "set up his judgment" against that of his family's, the author comes at us from a side-wind, bringing a spark of humor to the mix, and almost (it seems) having a laugh herself at her character's expense.   Love it!


Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

"...And now you wouldn't mind telling me and this lady some of the things you've learned--no, I know you wouldn't--for we are proud of little boys that learn.  Now, no doubt you know the names of all the twelve disciples.  Won't you tell us the names of the first two that were appointed?"
     Tom was tugging at a button-hole and looking sheepish.  He blushed, now, and his eyes fell.  Mr. Walters's heart sank within him.  He said to himself, it is not possible that the boy can answer the simplest question--why did the Judge ask him?  Yet he felt obliged to speak up and say:
     "Answer the gentleman, Thomas--don't be afraid."
     Tom still hung fire.
     "Now I know you'll tell me," said the lady.  "The names of the first two disciples were ----"
     Let us draw the curtain of charity over the rest of the scene.

It's that blunt, ending statement that makes this passage so hilarious.  Not that the passage wasn't humorous in and of itself, but that small tag on the end is like the icing on the cake.  And it's so cool, too.  For here's the author himself suddenly appearing before you on the page and saying, "let's have pity on our poor hero.  Let's close the scene."  And you can just hear, beneath those sympathetic words, the author chuckling to himself over his character's sorry predicament.   (And if the author's chuckling, how you can you possibly keep yourself from doing so? ;)) This is what I call clever writing.  For though it's obvious the last sentence is not needed in order to further the plot of the story, yet it serves a very important purpose by giving the reader an extra laugh and making the passage that much more memorable.  (That line has in fact been a favorite quote of my brother's for years!  I always think of him when I read it.)


Penrod by Booth Tarkington

     Thus began the Great Tar Fight, the origin of which proved, afterward, so difficult for parents to trace, owing to the opposing accounts of the combatants.  Marjorie said Penrod began it; Penrod said Mitchy-Mitch began it; Sam Williams said Georgie Bassett began it; Georgie and Maurice Levy said Penrod began it; Roderick Bitts, who had not recognized his first assailant, said Sam William began it.
     Nobody thought of accusing the barber.  But the barber did not begin it; it was the fly on the barber's nose that began it--though, of course something else began the fly.  Somehow we never manage to hang the real offender.

Okay, so apparently it's the ending sentences I'm hitting on today.  Why?  Well, because that's where the punch line is, I guess.  "Somehow we never manage to hang the real offender."  Seriously people, if that passage didn't at least make you smile to yourself, I don't know what I'm going to do with you, because that was FUNNY!  Really!  It WAS!  (Well, at any rate, I thought so.)  I just love how the author calmly inserts that statement at the end.  It's a joke, of sorts, but at the same time so ridiculously true, as I think we can safely say, every event in life is triggered by something that came before it.  And of course we could go back in time endlessly trying to figure out who actually began it, but we'll have small success in that regard, for by the time we've arrived at the source, we won't have a clue where we are anymore!  (Which is probably how you're feeling right about now, as that last sentence was most painfully confusing.  And to own the truth, I'm no longer sure where I'm going with this so...just agree with me.  That was a humorous bit of writing.  Wasn't it? Wasn't it? Right.  Thank you.)
Do you like this kind of humor in writing?
Have you ever come across a modern day novel with this style of description?
(Because if you have, you MUST tell me about it!)
Can you think of any similar passages in any of your favorite books?
(And no, you do not have to answer all of these questions.  I'm just putting them out there in case you'd like to!)


  1. I remember laughing particularly at that first example in Sense and Sensibility. Jane Austen is a comedy genius.

    I haven't read any of the other books you referenced (except an abridged version of Tom Sawyer) (I know, shame on me). But I laughed at each one! Of course I had to force myself to laugh quietly, being in the library that I am, but I laughed. :) I love the example from Mary Barton, especially. :)

    1. Indeed she is! I love her books. :)

      IN THE LIBRARY AGAIN? RAAAAE!!! How does this keep happening? I seriously need to work on my timing here. ;) Heehee.

    2. No, no, let me explain: I have classes in the mornings on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and I do schoolwork in the school library in the afternoons. If I have time, I'll read blog posts and stuff. So really, I'm in the libabry quite a bit. It's not your timing's fault.;)

    3. Hahaha! I see. So I suppose I'll just have to make sure that I write serious posts on those days so that you won't have to struggle not to laugh. (Haha. Just kidding! ;))

      I hope school's going well for you. :)

  2. Unfortunately, I haven't read most of these, but that Sense and Sensibility quote? Ha! Yes! I love Jane Austen's sense of humor! So wry. :)

    I don't even like that book, but she's so hilarious, even so. :)

    1. Oh, me too! She's hilarious!! :D

      You don't like Sense and Sensibility? Why, may I ask? :)

    2. Well, I've only read it once so maybe it improves upon acquaintance (?) but my first impression that it was so much longer than her other stuff (except possibly Emma, which I also didn't love???) and sorta staged for me.

      I couldn't seem to get into any of the characters for one reason... I hated Marianne and Mrs. Dashwood (that is their name, yes?), Willoughby I liked but he's kind of the villain of the story, Elinor I could relate to but she rather struck me as a boring precursor to Lizzy from Pride and Prejudice.

      Still friends??? :)

    3. Still friends? Why, OF COURSE we're still friends. (The idea. Haha. ;))

      I understand your feelings about Marianne and Mrs. Dashwood. They're not my favorite characters, either. Just a bit too silly for my taste sometimes. ;P Hmm...and yes, I can see how Elinor might seem boring next to Lizzy. Still, I like both of them. :)

      Which is your favorite Jane Austen book?

    4. Good! *wipes brow in relief*

      ACK! Such a hard question... Pride and Prejudice was the first Austen I ever read, so obviously it holds a special place in my heart (not to mention that it is too cute and witty for words!), but Persuasion is rapidly growing on me!

      The others I have only read once each, but Northanger Abbey and Mansfield Park are higher in my affections than Lady Susan, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility.

      What about you?

    5. Oh brother. You're turning the question back on me? Thanks A LOT! (Haha)

      This is SUCH a tough question to answer. Pride and Prejudice is so classic. I've read it the most out of all Jane Austen's books, so it's probably my favorite. But I really like Northanger Abbey, too. (Because Heeenry!! I love Henry Tilney. Also, Jane Austen's humor in that book is TOPS! SO FUNNY!)

      Ooooh. I didn't really like Lady Susan too much when I read it. It was kind of annoying. Probably because Lady Susan was annoying. Hehe. I like all the others, though, and I can't really decide between them. I used to think Mansfield Park was the boring one, but I read it again recently and realized it was as good as all the rest. I guess I just like all Jane Austen's books (with the exception of Lady Susan, of course)!

    6. Muhaha! I AM AN EVIL LITTLE BEAN. :)

      I KNOOOOW!!! Tilney is asdhlkjlhj!!!

      Lady Susan is... not okay. Bad little woman that she was!

    7. Haha. You are indeed. :P

      He is. He is!! :D

      Ahem. My thoughts exactly. ;)

  3. I love that one of Glaskell's. Such a way to describe someone as almost virtuous in his pride! How funny, thank you for sharing this delicious post. I dearly love to laugh, and one of the reasons I enjoy your writing is that is contains so many funny little statements. Blessings, Lexi

    1. "Virtuous in his pride" Wow. That is an EXCELLENT description. Sums it up perfectly!! :)

      Aww. I'm so glad you find my posts amusing. That's awesome. Thanks for your comment, Lexi! :D

  4. I don't have much time, but I just wanted to pop in and say,

    THAT PASSAGE IN TOM SAWYER IS GOLD. (The whole book is, really. I don't know how Mark Twain does it.)

    ~Miss Meg

    1. Isn't it, though? :) (Yeah, I don't know how Mark Twain does it either. His humor is hysterical. So chock-full of wit.)

      Thanks for your comment, dear. :)

  5. MISS MARCH!!!! I came home from a busy shift at work on Friday and only took a moment to check into blogger and saw you'd written another of my favorite posts. I kid you not, I squealed. But I did have to wait to share my excitement until this morning. I loved all of these!! This kind of humor is the BEST!!

    One of my favorite moments of this kind comes from Pride and Prejudice. Towards the end of chapter 45, Caroline Bingley is trying to irritate Darcy with different remarks on Elizabeth and Darcy is staying silent. Well, Caroline forces his hand and the scene ends with this line: "...and Miss Bingley was left to all the satisfaction of having forced him to say what gave no one any pain but herself." Hehehe.

    As for books of today having this kind of humor. . . from my own experience no, they don't. Another great loss in our modern world. *small sigh*

    Quite aside from the scenes you quoted, your commentary on each was great! Particularly, that last bit on the Penrod excerpt. I know I was smiling. ;D

    Thank you for this post, my dear friend!!


    1. This. Comment. Eeeeeeek!!! (Day made! :))

      Ohhh, I'm SO happy you enjoyed this post, Cordy! I was really hoping you would because, you know, I sort of wrote it for you!! ;) And yes, INDEED! THE BEST!

      Mwahahaha! That is a PERFECT example, Cordy! Just perfect. And, wow. Miss Bingley. She just doesn't get it, does she?? ;)

      Oh, I absolutely agree. Totally and completely. *HUGE sigh*

      Heehee. Glad you approve. :)

      Oh, you're welcome!! AND THANK YOU FOR YOUR COMMENT! If this post made you smile you can imagine what your comment did for me!! :D :D :D

      ~Miss March

  6. Hahahaha, these are so delightful, Miss March. I especially liked the one from Mary Barton. (Which, by the by, I MUST get around to reading one day...) I loved how it seemed to say the boy WAS very proud of himself, but to keep from appearing vain, he would protest it is only because his parents and sisters think him wonderful that he thinks he's wonderful as well.

    This makes me miss classics. I really must read some huge, delightful classic novels this winter. ;) (Mary Barton, North and South, and Ben-Hur are all toward the top of the list...)

    1. Haha. I KNOOOW! I really liked that one, too. It's just so funny! :D

      Ah, yes. Classics. There are so many good classics books. I hope you do manage to read some good ones this winter. I need to find some really good books to read, too. :)

      Thanks for your comment, Natalie. I'm happy you enjoyed these little snippets. :)