It was a cold grey day in late November. The weather had changed overnight, when a backing wind brought a granite sky and mizzling rain with it, and although it was now only a little after two o’clock in the afternoon the pallor of a winter evening seemed to have closed upon the hills, cloaking them in mist. It would be dark by four. The air was clammy cold, and for all the tightly closed windows it penetrated the interior of the coach. The leather seats felt damp to the hands, and there must have been a small crack in the roof, because now and again little drips of rain fell softly through, smudging the leather and leaving a dark-blue stain like a splodge of ink. The wind came in gusts, at times shaking the coach as it travelled round the bend of the road, and in the exposed places on the high ground it blew with such force that the whole body of the coach trembled and swayed, rocking between the high wheels like a drunken man.
The driver, muffled in a greatcoat to his ears, bent almost double in his seat in a faint endeavour to gain shelter from his own shoulders, while the dispirited horses plodded sullenly to his command, too broken by the wind and the rain to feel the whip that now and again cracked above their heads, while it swung between the numb fingers of the driver.
The wheels of the coach creaked and groaned as they sank into the ruts on the road, and sometimes they flung up the soft spattered mud against the windows, where it mingled with the constant driving rain, and whatever view there might have been of the countryside was hopelessly obscured.
The few passengers huddled together for warmth, exclaiming in unison when the coach sank into a heavier rut than usual, and one old fellow, who had kept up a constant complaint ever since he joined the coach at Truro, rose from his seat in a fury; and, fumbling with the window-sash, let the window down with a crash, bringing a shower of rain in upon himself and his fellow-passengers. He thrust his head out and shouted up to the driver, cursing him in a high petulant voice for a rogue and a murderer; that they would all be dead before they reached Bodmin if he persisted at breakneck speed; they had no breath left in their bodies as it was, and he for one would never travel by coach again.
Daphne du Maurier
The prose extract presents a journey in a coach from a third person narrative view. Through its highly descriptive narration, the writer employs multi-dimensional perspectives of the entire scenario around her characters, presenting the difficulties of the ride and the cause of such discomfort.
The writer depicts the uneasiness of the situation by allowing vivid descriptions of the effects on the characters present. Maurier uses third person omniscient narration, framing how the weather – the main cause of discomfort – engages different elements and characters to react. She follows a well-organized description, introducing the setting at the beginning, gradually refocusing on the driver and the horses, then moving on to the coach, concluding with a description of the inner scenario of the coach. The writer employs a skillful use of the senses in her description, i.e. ‘cold’ is related to feeling, ‘grey’ related to sight, ‘creaked’ to hearing. Pre-modifiers are also present, further complementing the writer’s descriptive skill (‘mizzling’ rain, ‘granite’ sky). These pre-modifiers create the atmospheric situation, where the dull afternoon of November is clearly portrayed. Maurier uses a simile to personify the coach, which apparently trembled ‘like a drunken man’. She also inputs metaphoric words when describing the outside scenery to capture interest – the weather had a more substantial effect, as the winter had obscured the hills from human sight, ‘cloaking them in mist’. The cloak metaphor highlights the chill factor that is extended to the inanimate objects too.
Maurier then shifts to describing the driver and the horses, vividly picturing the outside scenario, and zooming in closer to the coach. The narrator zooms in on the driver, emphasising on the effect of the weather and the difficult journey on them. The horses are referred as ‘dispirited’ while the driver is bent double to seek protection from the weather, using his own body as a desperate shelter. The writer draws sympathy for these characters and slightly hints at an extensive theme of the prose by comparison with the last paragraph. In the third paragraph, the constant changing visual camera of the writer’s focuses on the effect of the weather on the coach. She observes the coach from the perspective of a watcher, noticing how the wheels ‘creaked and groaned’. Here she maintains a contrast in words, assigning the wheel both a mechanical sound effect ‘creak’ and a human sound effect ‘groaned’. With the help of the auditorial sense and two onomatopoeic words, Maurier maintains the pace of her descriptive situation, allowing the entire scenery to be absolutely virtual in the reader’s mind.
In the final paragraph, the writer takes the camera to the inside scenario, describing the effect of the weather and the rough ride on the passengers, all who were ‘huddled together for warmth’. Step by step, she frames the passenger who has an outburst, indirectly commenting on the man’s aggressive and insensitive attitude. Maurier allows a rhythmic pace to her description to create a smooth transition from one action to another. The man ‘fumbles’ and then opens the window with a ‘crash’, where the onomatopoeic words create discordant note.
The writer’s structure is very methodical, where the continuity of complex-compound sentences in both the second and third paragraph symbolize the continuity of the journey. Maurier also has a magnificent linguistic ability along with her organized descriptive skill, a representation of a typical 19th century writer. Her use of alliterations entice attention, examples include: ‘clammy cold’, ‘soft spattered’, ‘constant complaint’. Maurier’s excellent use of syntax highlights the main concept of the journey – the uncomfortableness.
However, this prose is not just a description or narration of a journey. This text simultaneously comments on the division of the upper class to the working class. The writer obliquely draws a tone of sympathy for the coach driver and the horses, both of whom were exposed to such cruel weather that they had gone numb in feeling. They are persistent in their assigned job, and even though the weather had such a powerful adverse effect, they carried on with their jobs, trying in all means possible to return the passengers to their destination. Contrastingly, the passenger from ‘Truro’ calls the coach driver a ‘rogue’ and a ‘murderer’ for something that the coach driver had no control in. This describes how easily an unfavorable situation repels those who are protected by society, causing them to be insensitive in their behavior towards those that are inclined to hard labour and those that only help, just for the wrongful standards of hierarchy.