Concatenated quotes

Updike reviews

Fernanda Eberstadt’s Little

Money Street in the New Yorker this week. Here he is talking about

Gypsy girls:

Her value, as a virgin, is ascertained not by the young groom on the wedding

night but, according to archaic folk custom, by the probing finger of a tribal

crone: Eberstadt’s partially renegade Gypsy friend Linda explains, “For

Gypsies, it’s a nasty old woman who is paid to penetrate the girl, like

a gynecologist but with dirty hands, in front of all the husband’s family.

It’s terrifying, it’s inhuman.” Landric sums up: “People

talk about preserving Gypsy culture. But what am I as an educator supposed

to do when the comportment of my students is frankly pathological?”

Eberstadt, liberal enough to doubt liberal pieties, complains that “if

these pedagogues were nineteenth-century missionaries to a cannibal island,

they could not be more convinced that the belief system they wished to impose

upon the Gypsy savages—in this case, egalitarian secularism—was

as unequivocal a good as clean water.” Yet she comes down, finally,

on the side of clean water, asserting that the French authorities are “using

their utmost powers of imagination and sympathy to devise ways of freeing

a community that was clearly stuck and unhappy.”

What struck me about this passage was not only Updike’s striking language ("the

probing finger of a tribal crone") – it was also the way that he

strung quotations from three different people together in one paragraph.

Now there’s no rule against quoting more than one person per paragraph, unless

you’re doing dialogue or conversation. But for some reason, at the back of my

head, I always thought there was. I suppose that when I was learning English,

I might have misunderstood my teacher’s comments about dialogue, or maybe my

teacher was the one with the misunderstanding. Either way, I’m glad I now went

to the effort of looking my imaginary rule up, and coming to the conclusion

it doesn’t exist.

That said, I would be happy to break the rule if it did exist. If something’s

OK by John Updike and the editors of the New Yorker, it’s OK by me.

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