May someone help me understand the syntax of the bold part in the following sentence?

From A Tale of Two Cities, Book the Second - I. Five Years Later

After bursting open a door of idiotic obstinacy with a weak rattle in its throat, you fell into Tellson's down two steps, and came to your senses in a miserable little shop, with two little counters, where the oldest of men made your cheque shake as if the wind rustled it, while they examined the signature by the dingiest of windows, which were always under a shower-bath of mud from Fleet-street, and which were made the dingier by their own iron bars proper, and the heavy shadow of Temple Bar.

I got confused on the syntax within this bold clause "which were made ..." by:

  1. Why there is a "the" in front of the comparative adjective "dingier"?
  2. What is "proper" used for?

Thank you!

  • 1
    (1) the comes from all the dingier, which is a comparative idiom that lets you drop all. (2) proper is just emphasis; here it means something like "as properly expected". I.e, it was normal for a room like that to have iron bars on the windows. Maybe. Dickens was just wordy, and he may have decided it sounded good. Feb 12, 2023 at 20:18
  • 1
    @JohnLawler this was a fantastic explanation, thank you! Feb 12, 2023 at 22:43
  • Post-positioned proper can usually be replaced by itself or themselves, but occasionally means a "real" or "respectable" whatever it is. See some of the duplicate questions about this matter. // The (all) the <comparative-degree adjective> construction will be familiar to readers of the (now children's) folktale Little Red Riding Hood. (See next .)
    – tchrist
    Feb 12, 2023 at 23:01
  • 1
    She says, "What a deep voice you have!" ("The better to greet you with", responds the wolf), "Goodness, what big eyes you have!" ("The better to see you with", responds the wolf), "And what big hands you have!" ("The better to embrace you with", responds the wolf), and lastly, "What a big mouth you have" ("The better to eat you with!", responds the wolf), at which point the wolf jumps out of the bed and eats her, too.
    – tchrist
    Feb 12, 2023 at 23:02


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