Several facets of the novel, including aspects of Spark’s characterization, impart its balladic quality. Besides the sensationalized or lurid deeds of the characters (a staple of the popular ballad in Renaissance times, comparable to today’s scandal magazines and yellow-journalistic newspapers), the repetition used to portray them creates and accents epithet and refrain, two key components of the ballad. Thus, one member of Trevor Lomas’ gang is first identified in both chapters 1 and 7 as “Collie Gould, aged eighteen, unfit for National Service”; similarly, toward the close of chapter 1, the group at Meadows Meade which is informed about the jilting is described as “Dawn Waghorn, cone-winder, Annette Wren, trainee-seamer, Elaine Kent, processcontroller, Odette Hill, uptwister, Raymond Lowther, packer, Lucille Potter, gummer.” The epithets engender a flattening of character, appropriate to both Spark’s genre, satire, used to chastise human folly, and her emphasis on the intricate turnings of plot. This device also suggests the psychic and spiritual impoverishment produced by these characters’ industrialized, blue-collar world.
Habitual actions and expressions of several characters, in effect balladic refrains, like the epithets suggest characters’ being circumscribed or trapped by some obsession. In the novel’s second main depiction of her, Dixie is shown exercise-dancing while scrutinizing her bankbook; indeed, she almost always evidences her materialistic preoccupation with saving (together with explicit comment about it by her parents and fiance). Humphrey Place’s idee fixe is the maintenance of the proper roles of labor and management in the status quo, making Humphrey’s surname emblematic. Merle Coverdale’s repeated lament, “I’ve had a rotten life,” is graphically substantiated by the manner of her death. Though Dougal Douglas is the novel’s least constrained character, his deformed shoulder is mentioned at regular intervals no fewer than seventeen times; his revulsion at the others’ illness, nine times. “Quite frankly,” the verbal tic interlarding the speech and letters of Joyce Willis, wife of the co-owner and managing director of Drover Willis Textiles, conveys her continual fruitless striving to be intimate, authoritative, and at ease with others. Finally, the...
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