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“I went to Florence without any idea of looking Jamie up, for this was the third or fourth time I had been there and without doing more than reflect that for a few days we would be in the same city, he and I.”

I came across this sentence in a novel and I’m confused by the “reflect” here after “without doing more than”, is it grammatically right? Could anyone help me understand the structure?

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  • It is grammatical, but most likely not in the way the author had intended. It was probably meant to say reflect on [the fact] that. To reflect on something means to think about it. But to simply reflect something can mean to bend or divert its path, or to show a duplicate image of it. May 3, 2020 at 14:30

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This is, you are right, a roundabout way of saying that she went to the place where he lived and didn’t see him. But this is a very strong (emotional) way to say that. Not only did s/he not see him: s/he did nothing else. So s/he spent the entire time thinking to her/himself (reflecting) “I’m not seeing him.”. You might think s/he would have found other thing to do with her/his empty time. But no, s/he did nothing but eat, drink breathe and fret about the fact that she was not seeing him. It is a kind of rhetorical hyperbole.

The verb I reflect can mean the same as I think or I consider. So, like these, it can function as the main verb in reported speech (or, in this case, thought). This is clear in the definition in the Cambridge English dictionary, which provides the following example:

She reflected that this was probably be the last time she would ever see him.

So in your passage it is fine to write

I did nothing but reflect that I ...

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