This is from the book Far Above Rubies by George MacDonald. It reads...

The narrative, such as it might prove, was at length finished, and had been read, at least with pleasure and hope, by his friend, who was still the only critic on whose judgement he dared depend, for he could not help regarding Annie as prejudiced in his favor, although her approval continued for him absolutely essential.

What does this mean? Is this an idiom?

  • A single sentence with these many commas! Some vote to me for typing this lengthy sentence. Phew, it finally got over. – Maulik V Jun 30 '14 at 12:08

This appears to be an elision of "to be" from "such as it might prove to be", which is slightly awkward.

Let's make up a different example to illustrate this.

A proper engineer, such as you might someday prove (to be), always takes into account the economic feasibility of a proposed design. (You're not a proper engineer yet. You might one day prove to be one (or might not). A proper engineer always takes into account the economic feasibility of a proposed design.)

That is to say, the sentence talks about a writer's manuscript, and the remark suggests that the draft work is not yet classified into a form, but will perhaps come to be regarded as a narrative.

Now it's a little hard, at first, to understand the purpose of the remark, because "a narrative" is simply a story consisting of some events presented in some order. It's obvious whether some finished manuscript is a narrative, or something else. It usually isn't something that has to be proven; to call something a narrative isn't to say that it's worthy in some way.

However, it could be that the writer is saying that the manuscript was in fact so badly put together that it cannot be recognized as having the structure of a narrative in its present form: that only after some heavy editing might something which looks like a narrative emerge out of the whole mess (thus "prove to be" a narrative).

This interpretation is supported by the presence of the observation that the writer chose a friend who is biased in his favor to proofread his work, the implication being that a writer who is confident in his abilities would choose an unbiased, honest reviewer.

The remark "the only critic whose judgment he dared depend on" is also quite sarcastic; the writer "dared to depend on" not some sharp, skilled literary critic, but a mere friend who is biased toward giving favorable feedback.

(Imagine a paragraph written about a surgeon, who "dared depend on" nothing other than an old, rusty, dull scalpel.)

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  • +1. But in your last paragraphs I think you are mistaken in identifying the “friend” with Annie; back up a couple pages and you will find that earlier Hector showed his first draft to Annie, who “greatly in doubt of her own judgment, submitted it to his friend; and together they agreed on this verdict: ...” – StoneyB on hiatus Jul 1 '14 at 1:30
  • So it is a variation of "such as it is" to mean uncertainty? – user8153 Jul 1 '14 at 5:57
  • Yes; it is intended to convey uncertainty. As @Kaz noted in the excellent answer above, it conveys uncertainty about whether or not the document warrants being classed as a narrative. – TechnoCat Oct 4 '19 at 6:30

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