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‘I’ll be forty soon,’ she said.

Doctor Fox opened his eyes and let out a peculiar cry. ‘Ah! Then you will be out of the fog. At forty you can no longer harm anyone, and no-one can harm you.’

‘What?’ she thought. ‘That can’t possibly be true.’ But it was exactly the kind of answer she had wanted.

He laughed and pulled a long face at her, then turned to kiss the child goodbye, but the boy’s face was suffused with sudden bliss, and he flung open his arms as if the vision splendid had shimmered into view over his father’s shoulder. Elizabeth too recoiled, as we do in respect and fear before the ecstasy of someone tripping on acid, to whom we are nothing more substantial than a liquid blur of light.

First of all I want to know if I am right in understanding the phrases in bold.

  1. Dose "But it was exactly the kind of answer she had wanted." mean: But it was exactly the kind of answer she had liked to hear when she was younger?

  2. in the sentence "as if the vision splendid had shimmered into view over his father’s shoulder" instead of "vision splendid" can we write "splendid vision"? I think "splendid" is adj and "vision" is noun. And does "vision splendid" mean: something splendid that we see?

Source: The children's Bach by Helen Garner

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  • There a lot of separate questions here. Moreover there is much that is unclear about the extract. Why is she safe from age 40? Why is he kissing his son goodbye? What is the nature of the relationship between Fox, Elizabeth and the boy. I suspect answers to these questions could only come from reading the novel, not from understanding the meaning of the words and grammar here. – James K Apr 4 at 13:53
  • Yes maybe, but the author has also written generally. From this context it is clear that Doctor Fox who is the child's Grandfather is going somewhere. And I found from the answer of @Gareth McCaughan that the phrase like "vision splendid" is poetic that did not follow grammatical rules. – Viser Hashemi Apr 4 at 14:40
  • Not clear at all. I'd assumed that Dr Fox was the father, and that Elizabeth and the child were going somewhere. – James K Apr 4 at 16:41
  • sorry. It would be better I explained more. – Viser Hashemi Apr 4 at 20:33
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  1. It's hard to be sure what "you will be out of the fog" means here without more context. I would guess that, as you suggest, it means "you will be out of danger". (The other thing it might mean, in some contexts, is "you will be able to see clearly", but the rest of what Doctor Fox says doesn't seem to fit that.)

  2. I don't think "exactly the kind of answer she had wanted" is looking as far back as you suggest; it's the kind of answer she had wanted when she said she was nearly forty. (I think. Again, knowing a bit more about what happened immediately before might make change my opinion.)

  3. It certainly means that he deliberately put on a sad expression. It might be to mock her, as you suggest, or he might have expected her to be amused by it too. Again, this might be clearer with more context.

  4. I think "vision splendid" is that way because the author is referring to something else. It does indeed mean the same as "splendid vision", meaning something splendid that we see. Since Helen Garner is Australian, I think the most likely thing she's referencing is a poem by Banjo Paterson which contains the line "And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended", referring to someone who lives out in the Australian outback.

(This sort of inversion is fairly common in poetry, probably originally just because being able to switch the word order around is helpful in getting your lines to have the rhythm you want.)

  1. Respect isn't the same thing as liking. It's what you might feel towards a parent, a teacher, a judge, an expert in whatever field you work in, etc. I think the idea here is that she feels the boy is having an experience similar to someone seeing something glorious, or affected by powerful drugs ("tripping on acid"), and is aware that right now she is much less important to the boy than whatever it is he's experiencing.

  2. The "blur" part certainly means unclear, but I think what she's trying to describe is more than simply unclear light: the idea is that in some way the light is (or seems to be) moving around like a blob of liquid might. Again, she's trying to describe the experience of someone under the influence of powerful hallucinogenic drugs; people in that state often find that their vision is distorted in strange ways.

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    "He" is surely the boy. As to why the author is suddenly talking about the boy's father if Doctor Fox is the grandfather, I don't know. Maybe that's another thing that would be more obvious with more context? Or maybe the father is also present? Or maybe the father has been absent for a long time, and she's saying that the boy seems as entranced as if he'd just seen both his long-absent father and, over his father's shoulder, a glorious landscape? I don't know; this is all just guessing. – Gareth McCaughan Apr 4 at 14:30
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    I found some of the book online (legally, so far as I know) and have a bit more context now. It doesn't make everything clear, but some things are clearer. The child has some sort of mental deficiency (e.g., was never able to speak) and I think we're supposed to understand that he is not experiencing the world in the same way as the adults. His father is present (and nearby) and the child is facing him, so "over his father's shoulder" probably means exactly what it says. – Gareth McCaughan Apr 4 at 14:39
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    "Out of the fog" does, I think, refer to danger of a sort: Fox means that Elizabeth is no longer young and beautiful enough to be getting into romantic and sexual entanglements that could be bad for her or the other people involved. She'd had some sort of relationship with Fox's son, the child's father, who is now married to someone else. – Gareth McCaughan Apr 4 at 14:43
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    You can certainly write that, but it won't mean the same thing. Wanting and expecting are different. I might want Bill Gates to phone me up and give me a billion dollars, but I certainly don't expect it. I fully expect to die one day, but I certainly don't want it. – Gareth McCaughan Apr 4 at 15:11
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    Yes, it's a verb. – Gareth McCaughan Apr 4 at 17:00

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