6.6 Sentence Length

The mean sentence length for the characters in the book is plotted in figures 30 and 31. The measure was derived via the same procedures described in the previous section, with the narrator being excluded from figure 31 for the same reason. Figure 32 shows the trend lines, with Bernard's calculation including chapter IX as before.

Figure 30: Mean Sentence Length (Characters and Narrator) Figure 31: Mean Sentence Length (Characters only) Figure 32: Mean Sentence Length Trends (Characters o

As before, the 'narrator' has the highest score overall, using longer sentences than anyone else in the book, except in chapter VII, where Susan scores higher. This result accords well with expectations of the dense, complex style of this voice, and is consistent with the high score for word length as well. No ranking is possible for the characters over the span of the text, as the situation is too complicated. According to the totals for the whole text therefore, Bernard has the highest score, followed by Louis, Susan, Rhoda, Neville, and Jinny. This position for Bernard is despite a generally low score, and is due no doubt to the length of the sentences in chapter IX which boost his otherwise low score. This low score for the rest of the book is due to his use of shorter, more emphatic sentences.

The overall trend shown in figure 32 for all the characters (except Bernard) is again upwards, reflecting as before a gradual development in the complexity of the characters' speech. Bernard's trend is downwards only because of his extremely high score in chapter 1. The situation for the narrator shown in figure 30 is by no means so simple. In contrast to the previous section, the narrator's scores are linked only remotely to those of the characters. Initially, the narrator uses quite long sentences, giving an air of expectation, and matching the gradual revealing of the scene in the first prelude. The mean sentence length then drops in chapter II, because of the use of shorter, more informative sentences. The effect is less expectant and less atmospheric, with the emphasis rather on gradually revealing the surroundings. The sentence length rises then to a peak in chapter III, with the further development of the characters, and the analogous concentration on the birds who live in the garden. As they swoop and feed, the sentences become longer and more flowing. The score then drops to chapter IV. Here the feel of the sentences can best be described as one of solidity. Initially the short, clipped sentences give the effect of barely restrained motion. Then, in describing the birds, the sense is rather one of lyrical bursts of rippling song. Their movements are short swooping flights, sharp stabbing actions. And in the room, the crystallization of objects out of the mist continues here and there, suddenly shining brightly out of the haze. In chapter V the highest peak occurs; many of the sentences consist of two or more clauses linked together with semi-colons. The rhythm of the prose reflects the steady glare of the sun at noon, in long run-on sentences. A long drop to chapter VI then occurs. The land swelters under a hot afternoon, almost motionless. Only one solitary wave is described, and this rigidity of the scene is given in short, sharp capsules of prose. Next comes a short rise to chapter VII. The stillness is now that of the slow, languorous darkening of the day, the combined decay and desiccation of the scene with the approach of autumn, the low sun, and the shadows over the sea. The sentence length drops again in the prelude to chapter VIII. The sun is sinking, and shadows are falling. The images are those of desolation: the cry of a plover, solitary trees like lonely sentinels. The prelude does not mirror the second meeting of the characters, but the ends of their lives. The short sentences, falling like hard pebbles on the sand, reinforce the feeling of approaching finality. Finally, there is a short rise to the final prelude. In longer, more flowing sentences, the darkness spreads to cover the land as Bernard prepares for his final speech.

There are a couple of points of convergence for the characters in this graph. All five, with the exception of Neville, cluster around chapter IV. Their scores are similar because of the similarity of their speech caused by their partial communion. Neville is not included in this group because of the peculiar properties of his speech. Most of his soliloquies in this chapter consist of short sentences, or groups of such sentences. The effect conveyed before the arrival of Percival is one of nervous anticipation. The effect after is that of an intensity of feeling caused by his presence. Chapter VIII is another cluster point, for all the characters this time, and for the same reason as in chapter IV.

There are a few anomalous points to be discussed. In chapter VII Susan's score is so high that it exceeds that of the narrator. The long sentences used by her here, and to a lesser extent in chapter VI, are quite unlike her normal speech, as observed in the earlier chapters. She has mellowed. The "violent passions of [her] childhood" (p. 135) have passed. She considers carefully in long studied sentences her life now, and compares it with that of her youth. Another noteworthy occurrence is Jinny's score for chapter III. This is considerably lower than the corresponding scores for the other characters. This discrepancy is caused by the short, vivid sentences Jinny uses in her main soliloquy to describe the raw sense impressions she feels as she plunges into the social whirl that is her natural environment. She is totally caught up in the intoxication of the situation, and gasps "This is rapture; this is relief" (p. 75). The third anomaly is Neville's low score in chapter V. This is caused by his reaction to the death of Percival. His response to the news is short, broken utterances of sorrow and denial: "He is dead ... All is over ... Oh ... to say this has not happened" (p. 107).

 

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