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In my English language class, we had to write short, scary stories. I wrote a story about a man who brings his wife back from the dead, and one of the lines in the story was:

From that day, it was not love that drove him forward, but unholy intrigue.

What I wanted to convey with this sentence is that, at one point, his project was driven forward by morbid curiosity and he no longer cared about getting his wife back. My teacher took off points for the phrase "unholy intrigue", saying two things were wrong with it:

  1. "Unholy" means 'against a religion', and would give a sense of 'driven forward by the devil', which is not what I wanted.
  2. "Intrigue" as a noun means "a secret plan", and it makes no sense to say his secret plan was driven forward by his secret plan.

Her definition of intrigue agrees with my dictionary, but it still feels correct to me in the context.

As for unholy, the 2nd definition on the linked website uses it in the same way I do, except it says it must describe a group of people.

Does this sentence make sense in English, and does it mean what I want it to?

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Keep in mind that, when writing for an English class, the teacher is going to grade on proper use of English. Thus, even if the meaning can be deciphered (or even if it's obvious), you may still lose points if it is technically incorrect. That does not mean a general reading audience would disapprove. In fact, avid readers tend to embrace more creative writers and shun those who are rigidly correct on a technical level.

Certainly your phrase is unusual, but in the context I think "unholy" makes sense. "Intrigue" doesn't work for me, though. Intrigue implies that there is something mysterious, possibly even devious, afoot, which implies intent on both sides (someone doing it; someone else trying to figure it out). I think "curiosity" or "fascination" or something along those lines would work better.

  • Isn't bringing someone back from the dead mysterious, intriguing, devious? – Weather Vane Jun 28 '18 at 19:34
  • @WeatherVane, The man man may have brought his wife back through devious means, but he's the one who did it. He knows what he did, and he knows why he did it. It would only cause intrigue for someone else. Now, if his dead wife suddenly knocked on his front door one day and neither of them had any idea how she got there, that would be intrigue. But from what I understand of the OP, the man's interest is the occult in general, not specifically his wife's return. – ScottM Jun 28 '18 at 19:43
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Your teacher's criticism that "Unholy means driven forward by the devil" is nonsense.

That is religious fundamentalism. There is no devil except in allegory and archetypes and description. Stick to your guns, it reads quite nicely.

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Merriam-Webster gives three senses of unholy:

1 : showing disregard for what is holy : wicked
2 : deserving of censure · an unholy alliance
3 : very unpleasant : god-awful · an unholy mess

Further, its first definition of holy is:

exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness

None of these things specifically relate to the Devil and, even if one of them did, that doesn't exclude the other senses—or the fact that you could be writing in a metaphorical sense.

As for intrigue:

1 a : a secret scheme : MACHINATION
b : the practice of engaging in secret schemes
2 : a clandestine love affair

I don't understand where your teacher gets the idea that that you are saying "his secret plan was driven forward by his secret plan." Yes, I follow the "secret plan" part from intrigue but your sentence doesn't use the word intrigue twice, nor does it you use "secret plan" at all.

In fact, if you take the second and third senses of unholy and combine them with the first and second senses of intrigue, then what you end up with is:

From that day, it was not love that drove him forward, but a very unpleasant and secret love affair that was deserving of censure.

I fail to see how that's at all inappropriate for somebody who's involved in a romance with his dead wife . . .

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