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I'm reading The Pupil by Henry James and found this sentence difficult to understand.

Yet he was unwilling to take leave, treating his engagement as settled, without some more conventional glance in that direction than he could find an opening for in the manner of the large affable lady who sat there drawing a pair of soiled gants de Suède through a fat jewelled hand and, at once pressing and gliding, repeated over and over everything but the thing he would have liked to hear.

It's excerpted from the first paragraph of this short story which you can read from the link above.

What confused me the most is "...without some more conventional glance in that direction than he could find an opening for in the manner of...".

Could someone help me with it? Thanks very much in advance.

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    He didn't want to go (take his leave), because he wasn't yet sure that whatever they'd been discussing was fully settled (put into words and agreed by all parties to the discussion). The reference to "some more conventional glance in that direction" is metaphoric - what it means is he wanted someone to do or say something that more explicitly confirmed that the matter under discussion was "settled". And he's somewhat whimsically suggesting that the way the fat woman was pulling her gloves on almost (but not quite) implied that she was in agreement with the plan as discussed. Nov 16, 2022 at 18:14
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    But nobody ever talked like that, and few if any people write like that today. It's incredibly convoluted / oblique phrasing. Nov 16, 2022 at 18:16
  • The discourse is following the rambling of the character's thoughts... Henry James is known for using stream of consciousness techniques. So it's convoluted.
    – fev
    Nov 16, 2022 at 18:47
  • Thank you a lot. I barely understand it.
    – Alex Lee
    Nov 16, 2022 at 19:55

1 Answer 1

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It is tough reading , but it makes sense when considered with the Previous lines & the next lines , even the next Para.

Here is my interpretation :

The Para & next Para ( the Starting line ) is this :

The poor young man hesitated and procrastinated: it cost him such an effort to broach the subject of terms, to speak of money to a person who spoke only of feelings and, as it were, of the aristocracy. Yet he was unwilling to take leave, treating his engagement as settled, without some more conventional glance in that direction than he could find an opening for in the manner of the large affable lady who sat there drawing a pair of soiled gants de Suède through a fat jewelled hand and, at once pressing and gliding, repeated over and over everything but the thing he would have liked to hear. He would have liked to hear the figure of his salary; but just as he was nervously about to sound that note the little boy came back—the little boy Mrs. Moreen had sent out of the room to fetch her fan. He came back without the fan, only with the casual observation that he couldn’t find it. As he dropped this cynical confession he looked straight and hard at the candidate for the honour of taking his education in hand. This personage reflected somewhat grimly that the thing he should have to teach his little charge would be to appear to address himself to his mother when he spoke to her—especially not to make her such an improper answer as that.

When Mrs. Moreen bethought herself of this pretext for getting rid of their companion Pemberton supposed it was precisely to approach the delicate subject of his remuneration.

Here we see that Pemberton is the young man who would be hired to tutor a little boy whose mother is Mrs. Moreen. She has sent the little boy out of the room. Pemberton thought that , when the boy was not around , she would discuss Payment Details , but her intention was to talk Positively (& repeatedly !) about the boy who may have some heart ailment.

Till now , she has not yet told him how much he would be paid.

At the Point you refer to , the lady was talking about "higher" (aristocratic !) things & Pemberton wanted to ask about the remuneration. But he was unwilling (or unable) to do that !
He could accept the job & take his leave , without knowing his remuneration. But he was unwilling to do that too !
He wanted to know (or hear) a Pound Amount (or figure) that he would earn.
The lady not talking about such matters , he could not get a chance to initiate or move the conversation in that Direction.

With all that , your Query about this can be attempted :
"...without some more conventional glance in that direction than he could find an opening for in the manner of..."

It is conventional to state what the remuneration will be , in Pounds or other terms.
Here , that was not there. Pemberton wanted to hear some thing , at least "you will get X Pounds a week" or "My secretary will discuss your remuneration" or "we will decide your remuneration at the end of the first week". Here , there was nothing.

Even when Pemberton thought that it would be eventually revealed , the conversation was mostly about "higher" things , never about monetary things.

When Pemberton himself wanted to ask about it , the conversation topics did not let him.

Pemberton did not want to leave without making the conversation move ( or at least glance ) in that Direction : "Oh , about your remuneration : You must talk to my secretary !"

At last , when Pemberton decided to force that topic , he was interrupted by the little boy.

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  • Thank you! I'm not sure I understand it thoroughly, but with your detailed explanation, I figure out that the keyword is "glance" which I misunderstood. Does it mean "a brief satirical reference to something" here? Mrs. Moreen acted in such a way that Pemberton couldn't find a chance to speak of money.
    – Alex Lee
    Nov 16, 2022 at 20:17
  • Yes, She did not allow the conversation to move in the Direction of monetary considerations. Here "glance" is not about Satire , it means "take a brief look at". Here it means "at least mention [something about the Payment]".
    – Prem
    Nov 16, 2022 at 20:23

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