Wednesday 30 June 2010

On Tenterhooks in -Shire

This is what a tenterhook looks like. Don't pretend you knew.

You take some cloth. You wash it. You fasten it to a wooden frame called a tenter using tenter-hooks and that stops it shrinking as it dries.

Riveting, isn't it? I presume, gentle reader, that you are nailed to your seat. Otherwise you would leave.

My eyes were once caught, peeled and glued to the stage. I have required glasses ever since.

Incidentally, the first recorded use of the phrase to catch somebody's eye is in Pride and Prejudice at the moment when Mr Darcy first sees Elizabeth:

"Oh! She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld! But there is one of her sisters sitting down just behind you, who is very pretty, and I dare say very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you."

"Which do you mean?" and turning round he looked for a moment at Elizabeth, till catching her eye, he withdrew his own and coldly said: "She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me; I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men. You had better return to your partner and enjoy her smiles, for you are wasting your time with me."

Mr. Bingley followed his advice. Mr. Darcy walked off; and Elizabeth remained with no very cordial feelings toward him.

Even more incidentally, Pride and Prejudice was originally called First Impressions, and it was under that title that it was rejected for publication (publishers were as brilliant then as they are now).

Sense and Sensibility did get published and was such a success that Miss Austen decided she'd better stick to the alliterative-abstract-noun formula. So she changed First Impressions to Pride and Prejudice and the book has since sold (roughly) twenty million copies.

In America the novel was first published as Elizabeth Bennet with P&P demoted to the position of subtitle.

Even more and more incidentally (and I promise I'll stop in after this) Pride and Prejudice is the origin of the phrase "my humble abode", which is how Mr Collins always describes his house.

The Inky Fool's humble abode


  1. The Antipodean30 June 2010 at 14:51

    So, is that related to tent? Stretched cloth and all?

    Pride and Prejudice is never incidental, and I hereby resolve not to use the term 'humble abode' again. Not that yours isn't nice, or anything. Garden needs work, though. Some nice hanging baskets, or something.

  2. They are indeed related: both come from the Latin tendere meaning "to stretch".

  3. I always think references to the eyes in novels/stories can prove unintentionally ambiguous. 'His eyes fell to the floor ... their eyes met across the room ... her eyes rolled ...' They evoke very funny images.

  4. Back again after a short break. Got my laugh in early at line two.

  5. The Antipodean, excited about some slightly fancy HTML stuff,1 July 2010 at 11:17

    Evolving the eye theme a bit, a tremendous quote via Amazon from The Third Policeman: "the throwing by a man of a glance at his own face in a mirror".

  6. I did know what they look like. In a past life I worked for an employment agency. One of my clients was a tannery. I know what they smell like too.

  7. I don't know why I never bothered to look up "tenterhooks." I always thought it had to do with hanging up a side of beef or something. Or like what those Sioux did to Richard Harris (or Idi Amin did to James McAvoy).

  8. I thought tenterhooks were pegs you use to fasten tents to the ground.