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What does "it" refer to in this context?

So speaks the citizen. Man born of Woman, the father of daughters, declares that he will and must buy the comforts and commercial advantages of his London, Vienna, Paris, New York, by conniving at the moral death, the damnation, so far as the action of society can insure it, of thousands of women for each splendid metropolis.

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  • This appears to at least be missing some words. It looks like a bunch of unrelated phrases strung together. It isn't obvious that "it" refers to anything contained here. – fixer1234 Mar 6 '17 at 9:20
  • @fixer1234 I find the same thing in Google Books. books.google.co.jp/… – Yan Yang Mar 6 '17 at 9:26
  • I saw it, but my guess is that it was written by someone under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs, or perhaps it is a terrible translation. The individual phases make limited sense, but the paragraph looks like gibberish to me. – fixer1234 Mar 6 '17 at 9:34
  • @fixer1234 Lol. Maybe there are mistakes. It was written in the 19th century, originally in English, not translated. – Yan Yang Mar 6 '17 at 9:37
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    @fixer1234 This is perfectly ordinary, and grammatically impeccable, 19th-century rhetoric. It refers to the moral death, the damnation [...] of thousands of women. The topic is male indifference to the evils of prostitution: ...the degradation of a large portion of women into the sold and polluted slaves of men, and the daring with which the legislator and man of the world lifts his head beneath the heavens, and says, 'This must be; it cannot be helped; it is a necessary accompaniment of civilization.' – StoneyB Mar 6 '17 at 10:17
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"so far as...it" is a parenthetical phrase, which is a phrase that gives more information about a noun or another phrase.

A parenthetical phrase should come after the noun it modifies, so a pronoun like "it" will usually refer to the last word before the parenthetical phrase. In this case, "it" refers to "damnation".

"Gold, if you can find it, is nice to have." It=gold

"My father, if he can be called that, was never home." He=my father; that=the title "father"

This parenthetical phrase is difficult to understand because we do not use "so far as" anymore. It means "to the extent" or "in the way of" or "about".

"The weather, so far as it damages crops, is bad." The weather is not bad in every way, but it is bad regarding crop damage.

"The weather, so far as it damages crops, is bad, but, so far as it keeps mice away, is good." The weather is good and bad, but for different reasons.

In your quotation, the word "damnation" is extremely strong. It is hyperbole. The author is using a parenthetical expression to modify/explain the hyperbole. The explanation allows the author to retain the strength of the hyperbole without sounding unreasonable. The explanation says, "it's not real/literal/complete damnation, it's as much damnation as society can create".

"The curse, so far as the cold and hail can be called that, of the weather came every spring." Is the weather really a curse? Well, not completely, but the cold and hail are like a curse...

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