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Monday, February 03, 2014

The Historical Present as Affectation

Sheila and I were discussing the use of the historical present by both interviewers and interviewees as we listened to another author discussing his book.  It has become singularly irritating, so it was reassuring to discover this piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education.   It's such an affectation, yet seems to have been adopted by just about everyone. When Dickens uses it in a character to emphasize the way the character felt at an event in the past, e.g.

If the funeral had been yesterday, I could not recollect it better. The very air of the best parlour, when I went in at the door, the bright condition of the fire, the shining of the wine in the decanters, the patterns of the glasses and plates, the faint sweet smell of cake, the odour of Miss Murdstone’s dress, and our black clothes. Mr. Chillip is in the room, and comes to speak to me
'And how is Master David?' he says, kindly.

cannot tell him very well. I give him my hand, which he holds in his. (David Copperfield Chapter IX)

it works.  When discussing a non-fiction book about events that took place two hundred years ago, it doesn't.

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