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English Stylistics Class 2013. suspense


Suspense is a compositional device which consists in arranging

the matter of a communication in such a way that the less important,
descriptive, subordinate parts are amassed at the beginning, the main
idea being withheld till the end of the sentence. Thus the reader's atten-
tion is held and his interest kept up, for example:

"Mankind, says a Chinese manuscript, which my friend M. was
obliging enough to read and explain to me, for the first seventy thou-
sand ages ate their meat raw." (Charles Lamb)

Sentences of this type are called periodic sentences, or
periods. Their function is to create suspense, to keep the reader
in a state of uncertainty and expectation.

Here is a good example of the piling up of details so as to create a
state of suspense in the listeners:

"But suppose it passed; suppose one of these men, as I have seen
them,—meagre with famine, sullen with despair, careless of a life
which your Lordships are perhaps about to value at something less
than the price of a stocking-frame:—suppose this man surrounded by
the children for whom he is unable to procure bread at the hazard of
his existence, about to be torn for ever from a family which he lately
supported in peaceful industry, and which it is not his fault that he
can no longer so support;—suppose this man, and there are ten thou-
sand such from whom you may select your victims, dragged into court,
to be tried for this new offence, by this new law; still there are two
things wanting to convict and condemn him; and these are, in my opi-
nion,—twelve butchers for a jury, and a Jeffreys for a judge!" (Byron)

Suspense and climax sometimes go together. In this case all the
information contained in the series of statement-clauses preceding the
solution-statement are arranged in the order of gradation, as in the
example above from Byron's maiden speech in the House of Lords.

The device of suspense is especially favoured by orators. This is appar-
ently due to the strong influence of intonation which helps to create the
desired atmosphere of expectation and emotional tension which goes
with  it.

Suspense always requires long stretches of speech or writing. Some-
times the whole of a poem is built on this stylistic device, as is the case
with Kipling's poem "If" where all the eight stanzas consist of if-clauses
and only the last two lines constitute the principal clause.

"If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you
And make allowance for their doubting too,


If you can dream and not make dreams your master,
If you can think and not make thoughts your aim,


Yours is the earth and everything that's in it,...
And which is more, you'll be a Man, my son."

This device is effective in more than one way, but the main purpose
is to prepare the reader for the only logical conclusion of the utterance.
It is a psychological effect that is aimed at in particular.

A series of parallel question-sentences containing subordinate parts
is another structural pattern based on the principle of suspense, for
the answer is withheld for a time, as in Byron's "The Bride of Abydos":

"Know ye the land where the cypress and myrtle...
Know ye the land of the cedar and vine. ..



'Tis the dime of the East — 'tis the land of the Sun."

The end of an utterance is a specially emphatic part of it. Therefore
if we keep the secret of a communication until we reach the end, it will
lead to concentration of the reader's or listener's attention, and this is
the effect sought.

One more example to show how suspense can be maintained:

"Proud of his "Hear him!" proud, too, of his vote,
And  lost virginity of oratory,
Proud of his learning (just enough to quote)
He revell'd in his Ciceronian glory." (Byron)

It must be noted that suspense, due to its partly psychological nature
(it arouses a feeling of expectation), is framed in one sentence, for there
must not be any break in the intonation pattern. Separate sentences
would violate the principle of constant emotional tension which is char-
acteristic of this  device.

Taken from Galperin's book


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