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When you loved dolls and studied them, you started to love all kinds of people too, because you saw the virtue in their expressions, how carefully they had been sculpted, the parts contrived to create the triumph of this or that remarkable face.

Source: Ellen Tsagaris: A Bibliography of Dolls and Toys, p. vii.

Is before the phrase "the parts contrived to create the triumph of this or that remarkaple face" the word "how" omitted? Why is "this or that remarkaple face" used there? Could it be replaced simple by the noun – "their remarkable faces"?

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When you loved dolls and studied them, you started to love all kinds of people too, because you saw the virtue in their expressions, how carefully they had been sculpted, the parts contrived to create the triumph of this or that remarkable face.

The subordinate clause in this sentence, headed by because is the finite clause:

  • you saw the virtue in their expressions, how carefully they had been sculpted, the parts contrived to create the triumph of this or that remarkable face.

This clause has a Subject you and a Predicate, a verb phrase, headed by the verb saw. The Direct Object of the verb saw is a co-ordination of three phrases:

  • the virtue in their expressions
  • how carefully they had been sculpted
  • the parts contrived to create the triumph of this or that remarkable face.

In other words, this clause means:

  • You saw [the virtue in their expressions], you saw [how carefully they had been sculpted], and you saw [the parts contrived to create the triumph of this or that remarkable face].

We are interested in that last phrase, so we can look at this clause without the first two phrases:

  • you saw the parts contrived to create the triumph of this or that remarkable face.

This clause contains a noun phrase headed by the word parts. This noun phrase is being modified by a past participle which has a passive meaning. This is the word contrived. Participle clause like this can be analysed as "reduced relative clauses". A relative clause can be reduced in this way by dropping the relative word (either which or who) and some form of the verb BE:

  • The man who was standing in the corner ... ---> The man standing in the corner ...
  • Any staff who are required to attend can ... ---> Any staff required to attend can ...

In our example we can understand the noun phrase like this:

  • the parts which had been contrived to create the triumph of this or that remarkable face.

The verb contrive means to deliberately use your skill to create a special effect. We could substitute in the verb design, which would give us a similar meaning. This gives us the following kind of meaning:

  • You saw the parts which had been designed to create the triumph of this or that particular face.

The Original Poster's questions

The word how has not been omitted from the beginning of this clause. However, the writer could have used a structure like that instead:

  • You saw how the parts contrived to create the triumph of this or that face.

In this sentence the writer would be poetically giving the parts of the face a kind of will of their own. The meaning would be that the parts were trying to create an effect. However, this isn't what the writer chose to do. The order of the words would be very similar, but the actual grammatical structure would be very different.

We don't ever really know why a writer wrote things in this particular way and not a different way. But we can guess. I believe the writer chose to say this or that remarkable face and not their remarkable faces for a couple of reasons. The first is that the writer does not want to say that all the faces were remarkable. The second is that they want to say that you could see this in any particular remarkable face that you found - for instance maybe this one, or maybe that one.

  • Your man standing at the corner example could in principle be rephrased as the man stood in the corner, as in this written example: They saw a man stood outside a shop. Where we can reasonably assume the man himself actively performed the act of standing (and it thus makes no sense to think of it as the man who had been stood there (by someone else). But you could assume that "passive" construction with There was a sign stood on the bar which read "N0 HANGING ABOUT". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 22 '15 at 15:08
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No, the word "how" is not understood to head that clause:

When you loved dolls and studied them, you started to love all kinds of people too, because you saw the virtue in their expressions, how carefully they had been sculpted, the parts contrived to create the triumph of this or that remarkable face.

The word "contrived" there is past/passive participle, and the entire clause modifies or complements "sculpted"; it is not paralleling *how carefully they had been sculpted". One could call it an absolute complement.

But one could indeed rewrite (but not necessarily improve) so that the clauses are in parallel:

...how the parts had been contrived to create the triumph of this or that remarkable face.

  • I'm not convinced. OP's suggestion that we should assume a deleted how before that final the parts... clause seems perfectly credible to me. You reading (effectively, that we should assume a deleted with) is also perfectly credible, but the precise underlying syntactical relationships are really just a matter of opinion, and I can't see that the meaning is significantly affected either way. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 22 '15 at 13:07
  • You also have to assume an omitted "had been". – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 22 '15 at 13:20
  • I think that again is a matter of opinion. The parts themselves could be the "active" subject contriving to achieve the effect, OR you can think of them as "passive" elements which some unnamed agent (God?) contrived to do same. Which again makes no real difference to the meaning - it's just a matter of which underlying syntactic structures you (or the writer) wish to assume. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 22 '15 at 13:29
  • That "the parts" are the subject of a verb "contrived" is most unlikely from a grammatical point-of-view. Sticking to grammar and avoiding theology, the parts were contrived by the sculptor implicit in "sculpted". We would expect to see "contriving" if the parts were agents. – Tᴚoɯɐuo May 22 '15 at 13:33
  • I still think the only reason you say it's unlikely "the parts" have a "subject" role is because you're determined to assume a structure based on something like a deleted with. Whilst I accept that as credible, obviously, I see no reason to dismiss OP's alternative (that the "deleted" element could reasonably be how). And in that alternative reading, I see no reason to dismiss either the active or the passive interpretation - they both seem credible to me. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica May 22 '15 at 13:46

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