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Growing up in the listless nineteen-eighties, Cecilia Normanton knew her father well, her mother not at all. Mr. Normanton was handsome and tall, with steely gray hair brushed carefully every day so that it was as he wished it to be. His shirts and suits gave the impression of being part of him, as his house in Buckingham Street did, and the family business that bore his name. Only Mr. Normanton’s profound melancholy was entirely his own. It was said by people who knew him well that melancholy had not always been his governing possession, that once upon a time he had been carefree and a little wild, that the loss of his wife—not to the cruelty of an early death but to her preference for another man—had left him wounded in a way that was irreparable.

  1. What substitution do you recommend for the ward steely? According to dictionaries steel gray is a nearly neutral slightly purplish dark gray that is lighter and slightly bluer. I have my doubts if the writer meant that his hair was blue gray!

  2. What the highlighted that is reffering to in line 4 ? Is it reffering to the melancholy ? I mean does it mean the melancholy , or is it just an object, like other that s that come follwing the first one?

  • 1) don't think of the particular shade that 'steely gray' is on some painter's color wheel, but rather the impression it gives you of personality connected to 'steel' 2) 'that' introduces a relative clause, it is not a modifier. – Mitch Sep 26 '14 at 19:07
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    @Mitch I don't think that's a relative clause there. It's just a content clause. We can paraphrase: *It was said that melancholy......... irreperable by people who knew him wel.l – Araucaria - Not here any more. Sep 26 '14 at 19:30
  • @Araucaria sure. the point is that 'that' is not a determiner for melancholy or an object, it is instead introducing the rest of the sentence. One could replace 'that' with 'which' but not 'this'. – Mitch Sep 26 '14 at 21:54
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    @Mitch Hmm. Not sure that quite there really: It is said which melancholy had not always been his governing posession doesn't seem to work very well, imo. How about for you? – Araucaria - Not here any more. Sep 26 '14 at 21:56
  • @Araucaria: Yes, you're right, 'which' sounds bad there. Try another transformation "It was said that apples are red" (same semantic feel, 'that' introduces the relative clause. – Mitch Sep 29 '14 at 16:36
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It's almost certainly meant to say "steel gray hair" rather than "steely gray hair".

And melancholy doesn't require a determiner (e.g., the or that), even though it had been brought up already. But it could have just as easily been written as "... that that melancholy". (There are already a lot of "that"s in the quoted text.)

  • I really can not understand how to translate this into another language. His hair was gray blue? His hair was gray like steel ? His hair was strong like steel? Thank you – user5036 Sep 26 '14 at 19:25
  • His hair was gray like steel. You can go to Google Images and type in "steel gray" or "steely gray" to find the range of colors that this expression encompasses. Some of them are quite natural for hair, while others are too blue. – Peter Shor Sep 26 '14 at 19:36
  • "Steely" means metaphorically resembling steel. You can have a steely gaze, your gaze would be steady and unblinking, like steel; you can have a steely resolve, your resolve would be hard and unbending, like steel. When something literally resembles steel, the usual adjective is just steel. – Malvolio Sep 26 '14 at 22:50
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Steely gives the impression of very dark grey. It might also be implying that the hair is wiry, stronger and stiffer like men's hair can become as they mature. (So I'm reliably informed)

Regarding that in this context, it is not part of a relative clause. The word that here is a subordinator that we find at the front of content clauses. These are the clauses we find after verbs that report feelings opinions thoughts, speech acts and so forth:

  • They think/ believe/ know/ suspect/ that it will be very successful.

That has no meaning here, and in fact we can leave it out altogether. It is not a relative pronoun at all.

What William Trevor has done is move the content clause past the adjunct by people who knew him to the end of the sentence. Sentences like this would normally be organized like this:

  • It was said that he used to be happy by his friends.

Because the content clause is very long, 52 words in fact, it fits better at the end of the sentence. If the author didn't do this it would be even more difficult to follow the sentence:

It was said that melancholy had not always been his governing possession, that once upon a time he had been carefree and a little wild, that the loss of his wife—not to the cruelty of an early death but to her preference for another man—had left him wounded in a way that was irreparable by people who knew him well .

Moving this content clause to the end of the sentence like this is a variation on what is sometimes called heavy Noun Phrase shift.

Hope this is helpful!

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    We don't do chat in answers. You must think your answer might be helpful, or you wouldn't answer. Please refrain from adding chat. – Andrew Leach Sep 26 '14 at 21:54
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    @AndrewLeach Just 'cos it's intended to be helpful doesn't mean it will be. But ok. On future posts. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Sep 26 '14 at 22:19

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