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in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

I understand what the author means, but I am confused about the construction of this phrase:

they insisted on its being received in that way

it would make more sense to me if it was "it being received" instead of "its being received" in that phrase

can somebody explain?

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As you probably know, "its being received" uses the possessive "its". "Being received" is a gerund phrase that acts like a noun. Together, this could be rephrased as:

The expected reception that belongs to it (the period of time).

Dickens could instead have written:

its noisiest authorities insisted that it be received ...

and no one would have cared one way or the other. The possessive is somewhat more convoluted, but probably not unusual in the speech patterns of his time.

Dickens, of course, didn't know this sentence would become one of the more famous opening lines in English literature. He probably just thought it sounded more interesting the way he wrote it, without considering what future generations would think of it.

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  • Thanks for your answer. "no one would have cared one way or the other", does that mean both those expressions convey the same feeling/sense to the readers, right? – WXJ96163 Mar 10 '20 at 0:38

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