My slow speed of before

“I set off again, maintaining for some reason – perhaps because I expected further farm creatures to wander across my path – my slow speed of before.”–The Remains of the Day

“maintaining my slow speed of before”
Is “of before” a set phrase? Is “before” a noun or an adjective?

1 Like

Hi! =))

My feeling is, it’s a bit off-standard English, and your assumption of this word being a noun is nearly exact, by the way! :wink: What it really is, if I’m not mistaken, it’s a substantivated … preposition, which is, surely, quite a rare case! =))) That’s why I told it’s non-standard English, although it’s absolutely understandable, even for me, my native being Russian! :wink:

We have exactly the same phenomenon in Russian, substantivation, the difference being, however, prepositions would be extremely hard to convert into nouns in Russian, as they do not convey even the function of an adverb! =))

Update: That’s exactly the reason why there’s an additional ‘of’ which immediately makes it a noun! =))) Sure, the standard English would be ‘… maintaining my speed as before’.

1 Like

A more common way of expressing could have been “maintaining my earlier slow speed” or “[returning to] my slow speed of earlier/yesterday/last month”, but it is just right for this particular character in the novel.

1 Like

Is it similar to the expression “of late” or “of old”?

Both these expressions are no longer in common usage. “Of before” seems to fit well with them.

Thank you, SanneT.

“driving slowly as I did before”
here ‘before’ is used as an adverb, meaning ‘previously’

in the language of the novel, I think you are right to surmise that ‘of before’ operates as an adjective:
maintaining my slow speed of before = maintaining my previous slow speed

I think it’s safe to say the language of the entire novel is meant to capture the lack of emotion, some might say stuffiness, of the narrator and main character, the English butler Stevens, as well as his stereotypical Englishness. Most critics agree that the language of the novel is meant not only to hide Stevens’s true meaning — he is not a reliable narrator — but also to convey a stereotype: the dutiful and dignified English butler of a respectable Lord’s estate.

“But I feel I should return just a moment to the matter of my father; for it strikes me I may have given the impression earlier that I treated him rather bluntly over his declining abilities. The fact is, there was little choice but to approach the matter as I did – as I am sure you will agree once I have explained the full context of those days.”

Regular folk just don’t speak this way.

For a better understanding, you may wish to read some literary criticism of the novel.
For example:

I guess what I’m driving at is: don’t spend too much time trying to analyze every turn of phrase in this novel. I don’t think it will do you much good in advancing your English language skills in the real world.

A useful exercise might be to try to reinterpret some of the narration into more everyday language.
For example:
I pulled away, driving slowly, for some reason, as I did before — perhaps because I expected to see more farm animals wandering across the road.

You may also want to analyze why he is driving away slowly, when he claims that he would “like to reach Salisbury in good time.” Is he in a hurry or is he “not in a hurry at all”? Is he making excuses? Is he conflicted? What does he expect to face in Salisbury?

1 Like

"Regular folk just don’t speak this way. "
I know what you mean. I find the way Stevens speaks very enjoyable.

Hi Pauler,

I am looking for some more information on ‘substantivated prepositions’ as I am not familiar with this grammatical term.

Kind regards

Hi ! =)))

Yeah, that’s a very interesting and unusual aspect! =)))

Here’s an example.

"D’ya remember you said you needed that thing? But what do you need it for?

  • Ah, OK, I’ll tell you later, I have to hurry up now.

… Do you remember asking me what I needed that thing for?

  • Yeah, sure, I do!
  • The reason for me was to have this unit repaired. That’s actually the answer to the ‘for’ you asked me about."

The last ‘for’, in single quotes is actually a substantivated preposition, though it may seem strange at first! :wink:

Although, of course, I do admit this is a somewhat off-standard English, but I’d immediately understand the message should I ever come across something similar! :wink:

Certainly an exquisite novel.

1 Like