What does this sentence by Henry James mean? It is from the opening of "The Pupil" (1891).
"It was not the fault of the conscious smile which seemed a reference to the lady's expensive identity, if the allusion did not sound rather vulgar."
Thanks,
Franklin
Franklin Cacciutto wrote on 14 May 2004:
What does this sentence by Henry James mean? It is from the opening of "The Pupil" (1891). "It was not the fault of the conscious smile which seemed a reference to the lady's expensive identity, if the allusion did not sound rather vulgar."

This seems to be only a part of the original sentence: http://www.mastertexts.com/James Henry/The Pupil/Chapter001.htm (quote)"The young man's impression of his prospective pupil, who had come into the room as if to see for himself the moment Pemberton was admitted, was not quite the soft solicitation the visitor had taken for granted. Morgan Moreen was somehow sickly without being "delicate," and that he looked intelligent - it is true Pemberton wouldn't have enjoyed his being stupid - only added to the suggestion that, as with his big mouth and big ears he really couldn't be called pretty, he might too utterly fail to please.

Pemberton was modest, was even timid; and the chance that his small scholar might prove cleverer than himself had quite figured, to his anxiety, among the dangers of an untried experiment. He reflected, however, that these were risks one had to run when one accepted a position, as it was called, in a private family; when as yet one's university honours had, pecuniarily speaking, remained barren. At any rate when Mrs. Moreen got up as to intimate that, since it was understood he would enter upon his duties within the week she would let him off now, he succeeded, in spite of the presence of the child, in squeezing out a phrase about the rate of payment.
***It was not the fault of the conscious smile which seemed a reference to the lady's expensive identity, it was not the fault of this demonstration, which had, in a sort, both vagueness and point, if the allusion didn't sound rather vulgar.***
This was exactly because she became still more gracious to reply: "Oh I can assure you that all that will be quite regular."

Pemberton only wondered, while he took up his hat, what "all that" was to amount to - people had such different ideas. Mrs. Moreen's words, however, seemed to commit the family to a pledge definite enough to elicit from the child a strange little comment in the shape of the mocking foreign ejaculation "Oh la-la!"
(/quote)
This seems to mean that the allusion to the rate of pay did sound vulgar. The woman's smile did not make it sound vulgar, but her "gracious" reply was a pointed remark indicating that it had not been necessary for Pemberton to ask that question. I could very well be wrong about this though.
It seems to belong to the class of statements that includes "Well, if that don't beat all" and "Well, I swan, if that doesn't take the cake!"

Franke: EFL teacher & medical editor.
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What does this sentence by Henry James mean? It is from the opening of "The Pupil" (1891). "It was not the fault of the conscious smile which seemed a reference to the lady's expensive identity, if the allusion did not sound rather vulgar."

I think somebody deliberately smiled in an attempt to prevent an allusion from sounding vulgar, but the smile did not have that effect. That's all I can figure out without knowing whether the smiler is the lady with the expensive identity, or what an expensive identity might be.

Jerry Friedman
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On 14 May 2004 15:39:55 GMT, CyberCypher
Franklin Cacciutto wrote on 14 May 2004:

What does this sentence by Henry James mean? It is ... expensive identity, if the allusion did not sound rather vulgar."

This seems to be only a part of the original sentence: http://www.mastertexts.com/James Henry/The Pupil/Chapter001.htm (quote) "The young man's impression of ... of statements that includes "Well, if that don't beat all" and "Well, I swan, if that doesn't take the cake!"

The context you've provided explains it, but I read it differently than you. The key is in the sentence after the one originally quoted. Both his conscious (forced) smile, and the vague pointedness of his squeezed-out allusion to the rate of pay should have made it seem vulgar, and it wasn't the fault of either of those factors that it didn't. It didn't sound vulgar because it was saved from doing so by her becoming more gracious.

john
John O'Flaherty wrote on 15 May 2004:
Franklin Cacciutto wrote on 14 May 2004: This seems to ... and "Well, I swan, if that doesn't take the cake!"

The context you've provided explains it, but I read it differently than you. The key is in the sentence after ... factors that it didn't. It didn't sound vulgar because it was saved from doing so by her becoming more gracious.

We agree on what saved the remark from being vulgar, but I must confess that I thought the conscious smile hers and not his. It seemed to me that she smiled when he began to allude to payment terms (and I don't think allusions can necessarily be construed as "pointed"), which I interpreted as a concious effort to put him at his ease as well as a bit of bemusement that he should have asked about money under the circumstances. I then saw her remark as being even more gracious than her smile, but, as I said, I could have and it appears that I was wrong about that. Damn James for his useless ambiguity; he should have said "his conscious smile" or "her conscious smile". I hate trivial mysteries.

Franke: EFL teacher & medical editor.
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