“The hot August sunshine; the dusty window-panes and shabby painted blinds; a file of fly-blown play-bills fastened to the wall; the blank and empty fire-place; a bald-headed old man nodding over the Morning Advertiser; the slipshod waiter folding a tumbled tablecloth, and Robert Audley’s handsome face looking at him full of compassionate alarm. He knew that all these things took gigantic proportions, and then, one by one, melted into dark blots that swam before his eyes. He knew that there was a great noise as of half-a-dozen furious steam-engines tearing and grinding in his ears, and he knew nothing more, except that somebody or something fell heavily to the ground” (Braddon 40).
This dramatic passage occurs just after George Talboys has learned from a newspaper that his wife passed away. For most of the novel, the narrator is a third-hand observer, albeit somewhat omniscient, but in this instance, the reader is transported directly into George’s mind. The paragraph begins with a simple listing of George’s surroundings, separated by semicolons and described thoroughly but without reasoning, as if George is trying to ground himself after such a shock. He first identifies “the hot August sunshine,” a relatively basic observation, before listing the blandness of the coffeehouse. The use of words such as “dusty,” “shabby,” “blank,” and “empty” illustrates both the physical characteristics of the coffeehouse as well as the dark mood George is slipping into at the heartbreaking news. Finally, he notices the people in the coffeehouse, including his friend Robert Audley. A significant aspect of this paragraph is the repetition of “he knew.” This serves as another way in which George is attempting to ground himself in reality, but it fails in the end as the last thing “he knew” was his own body collapsing to the floor. As the paragraph concludes, George essentially has an out-of-body experience, a melodramatic reaction to the loss of his wife. Before he blacked out, however, everything around him “melted into dark blots that swam before his eyes.” This parallels how everything bright and beautiful about his life has faded into darkness since his wife was all he cared about. As his vision goes black, George hears “a great noise as of half-a-dozen furious steam-engines tearing and grinding in his ears.” The intensity of the words “furious,” “tearing,” and “grinding” brings a stark difference to the plain vocabulary used to describe the coffeehouse. This also seems to be a somewhat supernatural event, since it is unlikely this sound actually occurred in reality, which sets up the surrealism of his out-of-body experience. Overall, this passage chronicles George’s descent into darkness, emotionally and literally, when he learns of his wife’s death. Everything he loves, has worked for, and admires, fades away into misery and he is transported out of his body because he is so broken and disconnected from his life.