Carnival time came to Vienna just before Lent, as it did each year, with its glittery masks, wild costumes, extravagant feasts, the parading whores, who revealed as much of their bodies as they dared to by law, the banging of drums, the playing of horns, and much dancing until dawn -- all to frighten winter away.
Long sentences fascinate me, especially long lists like this one, which uses some very interesting organizational techniques to make it easy to read.
Let's start by taking a look at the mechanics. The list portion is composed of seven items. Simplified, they are,
- glittery masks
- wild costumes
- extravagant feasts
- parading whores
- the banging of drums
- the playing of horns
- much dancing until dawn
Here, the author creates two clusters of three items each at the top and bottom of the list. The middle item, the fourth item, separates these two groups of three. So the group of seven is actually broken out into a pattern of three, one, three.
The first group of three is linked by its reliance upon a common possessive pronoun.
its glittery masks, wild costumes, extravagant feasts
Its links all three of these items back to Carnival time, but that’s not a direct link. Consider how the pronoun reference would be confusing if we removed the intervening adverb clause, as it did each year.
Carnival time came to Vienna just before Lent, with its glittery masks, wild costumes, extravagant feasts,
(originally, Carnival time came to Vienna just before Lent, as it did each year, with its glittery masks, wild costumes, extravagant feasts,)
That phrase as it did each year is a cumulative modifier qualifying the time for arrival of Carnival, so the indefinite pronoun it must refer to Carnival time. Not to Vienna, and not to Lent. The it in that adverb clause links Carnival time to the its which the first three list items all rely upon. Carnival time - it - its, all working together like touchstones. Pretty nifty.
After that first clean and easy set of three items, things get even niftier. Items 4, 5, and 6 on the list each start off with their own definite article: the parading whores, the banging, the playing. But item 4 doesn’t form a set with items 5 and 6. It’s transitional, and it separates the first set of three from the final set of three. How do we know this? Two ways. First, the final three list items each follow the same structure: gerund, preposition, object.
banging of drums
playing of horns
dancing until dawn
But notice that with item four, we don’t get parading of whores (gerund, preposition, object). We get parading whores (adjective, noun), which is the same structure as the first three list items (also adjective, noun). Even though the adjective takes the present participial form, and thereby echoes the gerunds in the final three list items, that echo is imperfect. The sounds are similar, but the usages and structures are different.
I love it that she used a definite article for 4, 5, and 6, but dropped it for the adjective much in item 7. That was a master stroke, and that’s what originally made this sentence leap off the page for me. Another writer might have been tempted to use the same articles for 5, 6, and 7, and drop the definite article from 4. But Cowell enhanced the transitional nature of 4 by manipulating the pattern of the articles. Don’t believe me? Try this:
its glittery masks, wild costumes, extravagant feasts, its parading whores, who revealed as much of their bodies as they dared to by law, the banging of drums, the playing of horns, and the dancing until dawn
See the difference? Changing the articles sets those final three items so solidly together that the entire rhythm of the sentence is impacted. They sound isolated.
The second reason we know that item 4 is transitional is that intervening relative clause, who revealed as much of their bodies as they dared to by law. Hello, didn’t we just deal with another intervening clause used as a transition? Yes. Yes, we did. We’re in the hands of a masterful writer, folks. Look at the sentence structure:
- Main clause
- Intervening adverb clause used as a transition between the main clause and the list
- Three list items linked by common possessive pronoun and adjective-noun structure
- Fourth list item, transitional in nature, which follows the adjective-noun pattern of the first set of three, and which sets up the participle usage in the final set of three and which breaks the list’s reliance on a common article
- Relative subordinate clause modifying the transitional fourth list item
- Final set of three list items taking a gerund-prepositional phrase structure.
So gorgeous. This is the kind of sentence that makes my heart go pitterpat. And all because she knew how to use clauses as transitions and how to build a list by breaking it apart. Swoon!