We were all sitting in the long, low room at Farthings, darker than usual because of the rain. The french windows gave very little light, chopped as they were in small square panes that added to the beauty of the house from without, but inside had all the appearance of prison bars, oddly depressing.
The grandfather clock in the corner ticked slowly and unevenly; now and again it gave a little cough, hesitating momentarily, like an old man with asthma, then ploughed on again with quiet insistence. The fire in the basket grate had sunk rather low; the mixture of coke and coal had caked in a solid lump, giving no warmth; and the logs that had been flung carelessly on top earlier in the afternoon smouldered in dull fashion, needing the bellows to coax them into life. The papers were strewn about the floor, and the empty cardboard covers of gramophone records were amongst them, along with a cushion that had fallen from the sofa. These things may have added to Charles’s irritation. He was an orderly man, with a methodical mind.
— from the opening scene of The Parasites by Daphne du Maurier, 1949.
In the short passage above du Maurier conveys a lot of information.
- The reader learns right away that this house — and the people who live there — are not like the landscape outside. The house looks good from the other side but when you’re in it, not so much.
- The house is compared to a prison
- The grandfather clock is personified, which in turn makes the actual people seem part of the room. Since the clock is ‘like an old man with asthma’ we know something is about to end and another thing begin.
- We know the temperature of the room
- We have a sense of the light
- We have enough detail to place this room in its approximate time period — the bellows, the open fire which uses coke and coal for fuel, and the gramophone records all indicate this setting is mid-20th century
- Words such as strewn, flung, empty, smouldered and coax work together to not only describe the room but some of its lazy occupants.
- The room is juxtaposed with the first character introduced — the orderly Charles. This is the story’s initial conflict.