8 May - I began to fear as I wrote in this book that I was getting too diffuse*; but now I am glad that went into detail from the first, for there is something so strange about this place and all in it that I cannot but feel uneasy.

I understand "was getting" the action must have begun at the beginning of his diary but why "wrote"? It means that the fear began after he had written this passage in his diary, not at the time he was writing it. Could "was writing" be possible if he thought to the fear when he was writing his diary?

Excerpt from Bram Stoker's Dracula
Jonathan Harker is an estate agent from London. He is visiting Count Dracula in Transylvania in order to sell him some property in London. We know that Count Dracula is a vampire, but he doesn't — although he is getting suspicious in this excerpt from his diary.

* giving too many details

  • 2
    was getting implies only that the author was becoming diffuse, not that his diffuseness began as soon as the writing began. as I wrote means during the writing. He started writing, and at some point after the writing was underway, a fear awoke in him that he was becoming diffuse. Nov 1 '17 at 10:48
  • if it means during the writing why did not he used past continuous because he was still writing when his fear began.
    – user5577
    Nov 1 '17 at 18:27
  • If you want to read a writer whose tenses are meticulously chosen, try Nabokov instead. Nov 1 '17 at 19:43

The choice of tenses in the May 8th entry are somewhat odd, especially for a journal entry.

The May 8th journal entry says in the present tense

...but now I am glad that I went into detail from the first

and that clearly entails that the fear predated May 8th, and thus BEGIN would have to be in a past tense:

I began to fear

I had begun to fear

The better choice is the past perfect since it establishes the temporal relationship of the past fear to the present gladness, but Stoker opted for simple began, "I began to fear". That choice is strange for a journal. One would expect to find a journal entry either documenting the birth of the fear:

I have begun to fear that ...

or acknowledging its continued existence after some while:

I have been afraid that ...

But we have neither. An alternative to those two would be a journal entry placing the past fear in context of the present gladness:

I had feared that ... but now I am glad

We don't have that either. Rather, we have a simple past documenting the birth of the fear in the past:

I began to fear ... as I wrote ... but now I am glad

  • my question was why wrote instead of was writing. You told me that he was writing when the fear began . If past simple is used that means the action was finished not in progress so he should have finished to write , May be he wrote litterally "I was getting too diffuse" and the fear began at this moment
    – user5577
    Nov 1 '17 at 22:11
  • 1
    I understand your question. What I'm saying is that the tenses in the clauses are bollixed up to begin with, so that any nuance in the adjunct (as I wrote|was writing) is moot. He should not be referring to the journal as a thing of the past, and he should be saying "glad that I have gone into detail" not "went", if the journal is still being kept. Nov 2 '17 at 9:39
  • He was a writer so there must a reason: May be past simple means that he was still keeping his diary but now without being afraid of giving too much details.
    – user5577
    Nov 2 '17 at 12:02
  • No there mustn't be a reason, sorry writers sometimes get it wrong by accident, sometimes on purpose as they are writing in the 1st person and want to show how the person talks/thinks/feels by the words used.
    – WendyG
    Jun 15 '18 at 13:56

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