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Ref: “A tale of two cities” by Charles Dickens.

What does “..which did what lay in it…” mean in the following sentence?

“As the bank passenger – with an arm drawn through the leathern strap, which did what lay in it to keep him from pounding against the next passenger….”

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  • It means Charles Dickens got paid by the word.
    – Sam
    Oct 21, 2011 at 15:05

2 Answers 2

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I don't remember that specific passage, but it seems "did what lay in it" just means did what it could - meaning, here, the strap more or less kept him from bumping against other passengers.

(Note: The strap is being anthropomorphized in the sentence. Obviously the passenger, not the strap, was the one exerting effort, but Dickens describes this in a more literary way.)

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SparkNotes translates the passage into modern English as:

... with his arm through a leather strap to keep him from banging against the passenger beside him and pushing him into the corner..."

And the original:

... with an arm drawn through the leathern strap, which did what lay in it to keep him from pounding against the next passenger, and driving him into his corner, whenever the coach got a special jolt—nodded in his place..."

So, in "which did lay in it", the which refers to his arm, and it refers to the leather strap.

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  • It's not which did lay in it, but which did what lay in it - the strap 'did as much as it could'. May 4, 2023 at 12:42

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