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Source (Waterland, by Graham Swift.)

I have several questions about this sentence:

"For fifty-four years she will sit on a blue velvet chair before the window in an upper room (not the room once shared by her husband but a room to be known simply as Mistress Sarah’s room), staring now straight before her down the cluttered thoroughfare of Water Street to the Ouse, now to her left over the rooftops to where, in 1849, the tall chimney of the New Brewery, on its site by the Ouse wharves, will rise."

  1. Does the word "to" in the phrase "to the Ouse" mean "toward"?

  2. Does the clause "staring now straight before her down the cluttered thoroughfare of Water Street to the Ouse" mean "Sarah Atkinson stared straight along the cluttered main road of Water Street toward the River Ouse"?

  3. Does the word "to" in the phrase "to her left" mean "toward"?

  4. Does the word "to" in the phrase "to where" also mean "toward"?

  5. Does "now to her left over the rooftops to where" mean "Sarah Atkinson stared straight toward her left place on the top of the rooftops and stared straight toward the place where the tall chimney of the New Brewery will rise in 1849"?

  6. Is the clause "where the tall chimney of the New Brewery will rise in 1849" an object clause in the containing clause "now to her left over the rooftops to where, in 1849, the tall chimney of the New Brewery, on its site by the Ouse wharves, will rise"?

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  1. Yes
  2. Yes, except that you have the tense wrong. "She" is the subject of the present participle "staring," and Sarah Atkinson is the antecedent of the pronoun "she," but the clause does not mean that Sarah Atkinson stared in the past. It means that the staring will be in continuous progress during the future 54 years described in the sentence.
  3. Yes.
  4. Yes.
  5. Yes. (See #2 above.)
  6. The clause where the tall chimney of the New Brewery will rise in 1849 does not appear in the cited text.
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There are a lot of questions here:

  • "to the Ouse" means "toward" and "extending as far as" that river.

  • "to her left" means "in the left direction."

  • "to where" again means "as extending as far as the place where."

The writer is expressing the idea of movement in what Sarah's sees. Her view (what she is looking at) ranges from the things which are nearby, "down" or along the road, "over" the rooftops (from one to another to another...), and toward or as far as the river and other distant objects. Here "down" and "over" suggest movement along her "line of sight". In this passage the writer is describing what Sarah will see when she looks in two slightly different directions (straight ahead, and to the left).

  • The use of "now... now..." in the phrase "staring now straight before her ... now to her left..." means that sometimes she is staring straight ahead and sometimes she is staring to her left. The writer is making short 'video snapshots' as with a video camera. Some of the snapshots show Sarah looking in one direction, other snapshots show her looking in a different direction.

  • It is not clear from your quotation whether the author is predicting what will happen, or describing what has already happened. If it is the former, your use of "Sarah stared" (past tense) is not correct. The phrase "For 54 years she will sit" suggests that the author is predicting the future. In this case she will be staring (future tense).

  • It is not clear to me what you are asking in Question 5.

  • Like the river Ouse, "to where... the tall chimney... will rise" is the end point of one of Sarah's views. Your suggestions in your comment to PE Dant are correct. Extra words could be inserted to make the meaning clearer : "over the rooftops and as far as the place where the chimney will stand".

  • Does "now to her left over the rooftops to where" mean "Now Sarah turns her eyes to her left direction and Sarah will be staring on the top of the rooftops and Sarah will be staring as far as the place where the tall chimney of the New Brewery will rise in 1849"? Thank you so much for your help again. – Li Xiaodong Sep 8 '16 at 3:35
  • You are doing it again! You are asking a very long question without making it clear exactly what aspect is confusing you. As far as I can see your paraphrase means the same as the quote, but I do not understand what your confusion is. – sammy gerbil Sep 8 '16 at 3:39
  • I am really sorry. Does "now to her left" mean "Now Sarah turns her eyes to her left direction"? Thank you so much for your help again. – Li Xiaodong Sep 8 '16 at 3:45
  • Yes. This is explained in the 2nd bullet point in my answer. – sammy gerbil Sep 8 '16 at 3:50
  • Thank you very much for your help. I really appreciate it. Does "over the rooftops" mean "Sarah will be staring on the top of the rooftops"? Thank you so much for your help again? – Li Xiaodong Sep 8 '16 at 3:52

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