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I quote:

Two men huddled in the stern, and distances were so magnificent in the dinghy that the rower was enabled to keep his feet partly warmed by thrusting them under his companions.

The situation: Four shipwrecked men in a tiny boat in troubled waters - from which I gather that 'magnificent' here is used contradictory i.e. ironically. Could sb please confirm (or object)?

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    That is the only way I can interpret it, yes.
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 27 '17 at 13:28
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    I would say that irony was involved.
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 27 '17 at 23:51
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I don't see any reasonable way to interpret the sentence except to assume that "magnificent" is being said sarcastically. One could argue, I suppose, that the definition of "causing admiration" applies (Cambridge, American tab), and the writer is "admiring" the compactness of the boat, but that's a stretch.

And, as an occasional writer of short stories, I'll note that using sarcasm in this fashion is often the best way to describe a scene without being dry and clinical.

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I don't read this as ironic/contradictory (at least not in the way other comments have suggested), but it is a very interesting passage (from, by the way, Stephen Crane's The Open Boat).

Considering that sentence and the sentence that follows:

Their legs indeed extended far under the rowing seat until they touched the feet of the captain forward.

in which "indeed" is used, it seems as though Crane is describing a sense of distance measured by the human body - the dinghy being of such small size that the legs of the men are felt to be longer than normal.

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