Reading the story called The Open Window by H.H. Munro, I came across the fragment of the sentence which is unclear to me:
“Framton Nuttel endeavoured to say the correct something which should duly flatter the niece of the moment without unduly discounting the aunt that was to come.”
Please could you explain the meaning of the bolded fragment?
Well, I think if you read the entire story you will have enough context for the sentence to make sense. Otherwise you can only guess. So, maybe you tell us a little more about the story so we can tell you how we interpret the sentence?
The sentence is at the beginning of the text. So I can give this sentence in the context.
“My aunt will be down presently, Mr. Nuttel,” said a very self-possessed young lady of fifteen; “in the meantime you must try and put up with me.”
Framton Nuttel endeavoured to say the correct something which should duly flatter the niece of the moment without unduly discounting the aunt that was to come.
By the way, the film adaptation of this story called ‘The Open Doors’ is commonly recommended to English learners because of its intriguing plot and simple language. Besides, it can encourage them to discuss. I watched and then decided to read the story itself but it seemed a bit challenging.
I can suppose that ‘without unduly discounting’ means ‘not excluding the possibiity’. But I’m not sure.
Yes, I would say so. By the way, here is what I have found after doing some research:
That being said, from the style of prose I am guessing it is set in Britain, during the Edwardian period when people of the upper-middle class spent much of their time making “social visits” to homes of
members of their own class (in order to reinforce the class structure), a relatively rigidly structured process for which one had to dress formally (but not too formally) and be prepared to demonstrate specific mannerisms considered appropriate to their class.
The first sentence of the second paragraph tells us that Mr. Nuttel is aware that he must be complimentary to the niece, but not so much that he may not surpass how complimentary he will be to the aunt when she appears. The niece has “received” Mr. Nuttel as a visitor so he is obliged to demonstrate gratitude for recognizing him as an equal in terms of social class, but as she is a child (an “inferior” in any class) he must be prepared to greet and compliment the aunt as a adult
(a “full equal” of his class).
It is a fairly straightforward description of a minor social dilemma. Why should you find the word ‘without’ troublesome when you use it yourself in ‘without disregarding the aunt’?
If Mr Nuttel were to overpraise one it might be regarded as disrespecting the other.
If he said that he really wanted to see the aunt but was prepared to spend time with the niece that might insult the niece. If he said (without necessarily being flirtatious) that the niece’s company was so
pleasant that the longer he had to wait for the aunt the better, and the aunt (who apparently might arrive at any moment) overheard this, the aunt might be insulted.
Thank you very much, Torsten! I didn’t know about these nuances of social communication (probably, etiquette) of that time. It explains everything.