Hello all,

I do not understand the usage of articles before a person's name with an adjective. For instance, could you please explain why the definite article was used by Lovecraft in this passage from "The Music of Erich Zann":

«I had been living in many poor places, always evicted for want of money; until at last I came upon that tottering house in the Rue d’Auseil kept by the paralytic Blandot.»

There had been no reference to this Blandot prior to this sentence, so my "tamed" guess is that the speaker is soliloquzing (speaking to himself, not to the reader) and is referring to the housekeeper in this manner as if he were struggling to clarify his misty memory of Blandot, as well as of the whole period of his living in the Rue d'Auseil.

I see no other possible reason to use the definite article here, becase it could be rewritten as "... kept by a paralytic person called Blandot»".

Am I right that "paralythic" is an adjective in this context?

Thank you in advance,
Ant_222that tottering house in the Rue d’Auseil kept by the paralytic Blandot.»
There had been no reference to this Blandot prior to this sentence
Exactly. This is how an author draws us into the world of his narrative -- by referring to people and things with the, all the while knowing that we, the readers, have no idea who or what these are. The author knows, however, or he wouldn't use the. The author is very subtly suggesting that he knows more than we do, and we should keep reading to find out how much more he will reveal.

It's really not much different from ordinary real-life situations in which, for example, someone starts talking to you about the party, and you don't have any idea which party he's talking about. The difference is that you can question the speaker in real life. "Which party are you talking about? I didn't know there was a party." In a piece of literature the author is aware that he has raised a question in your mind which you cannot inquire further about, and that's a factor which impels the drama forward.

This writers' technique may possibly be somewhat specialized and independent of the general usage of the and a with proper nouns, however. The case of "a young Elvis" is the easiest to explain. It's based on the idea that as we grow old, we become someone different. You and I are not the same persons we were five years ago, so to speak. There is therefore a young Elvis, a middle-aged Elvis, and an old Elvis (or there would have been an old Elvis had he lived longer). To meet "a young Elvis" is to have met Elvis when he was young.

In general, it seems to me, if the speaker thinks of the adjective as a permanent trait of the person being described, the choice is usually the. If the speaker thinks of the adjective as an indicator of a temporary state, the choice is usually a( n ). Following up on this idea, consider:

Henry is always, and by nature, a very quiet man. He seldom has much to say.

If I run into Henry on a given day, and he is as silent as is usual for him, I may relate it later thus:

I ran into the silent Henry today. (Henry was silent.)

But if I run into him and he gushes with enthusiam at great length about his new girlfriend, I may relate it later as:

I ran into a talkative Henry today. (Henry was being talkative.)

(Note also the use of the simple vs continuous aspects above in the explanatory notes.)

Likewise perhaps, the intelligent Mr. Einstein (intelligent "by nature"), a bumbling Mr. Einstein (on that day). And, the beautiful Anna Karenina (throughout the novel, "by nature"), a suicidal Anna Karenina (toward the end of her life).

There is sometimes no objective measure of what is "by nature" and what is "just for a time", so the choice of article often signals little more than the speaker's subjective feelings about this -- not the (elusive) objective truth.


P.S. If you've ever studied Spanish and you understand the difference between the verbs ser and estar, you understand the contrast between "by nature" and "just for a time".
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We often use the article when the noun is modified (especially a proper noun):

It just isn't the same as the Paris of the 1900's.

We came across the bearded Hemmingway in Havana.

The poor Louise first appears in the second chapter of the story.
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This is an interesting example. Your analysis is right. The reason this doesn't make sense to you is that this is an idiomatic use of the word the. Paralytic is an adjective. We use the in this way when we refer to someone who is well known for haing a certain trait. The person is famous (in the world or in a certain community) and known for being the way the adjective describes him/her. The ever energetic Richard Simmons happily gave the interview.
PhilipIt just isn't the same as the Paris of the 1900's.
We came across the bearded Hemmingway in Havana.
The poor Louise first appears in the second chapter of the story.
I see that the definite article is suitable when the adjective helps identify whatever is referred to by the proper noun. Your examples about Paris and the poor Louise (don't you allude to Nikolay Karamzin's story of the same name? It's not divided into chapters...) surely fall under this category, but the Hemmingway example is more tricky to me. All the more so because I have recently come across a similar sentence, in a CD's liner notes, that went along these words: "And there he met a young Elvis Presley."

I have found these sentences in the internet, all with "a young Elvis":
— "He loves to share his stories, including one about the day he met a young Elvis Presley"
— "While appearing on the Hayride, he met a young Elvis Presley and was soon a convert to the emerging rockabilly craze." 
— "...and during the filming, she met a young Elvis Presley" 

Could you please comment on this?

Englishmaven, thanks for your note. I am starting to understand.

 CalifJim's reply was promoted to an answer.
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CalifJim, your post excels many a grammar book in both clarity and depth of insight. I suggest that it be put into a permanent section like F.A.Q so that everybody can partake of it.

Many thanks for sharing your knowledge and thoughts so generously.

Thanks so much, Anton, for the kind words.
I'm glad you were able to make use of what I wrote.

Emotion: smile
Could ant_222 know that article "the" is the most popular word in English!

IAE we cannot decry him if he didn't know)
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I think it is OK to raise this thread after a long time, as soon as the question I have is a direct follow-up to the original one.

In the description of "Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglas" at Amazon, I recently read:

«In 1845, just seven years after his escape from slavery, the young Frederick Douglass published this powerful account of his life in bondage and his triumph over oppression.»

Why "the" is used before an adjective stating an apparently accidental property?

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