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|Ch 5: "The last office of the four carriage-horses...
Written by Glenn
(10/3/2011 3:11 a.m.)
... was to draw Sir Walter, Miss Eliot, and Mrs. Clay to Bath." What? As I understand this sentence, a carriage took three passengers from Kellynch-hall to Bath. However, Jane Austen often likes to play with words. I had to look up "office" in the Random House Unabridged Dictionary. The definitions I was familiar with refer to a room or building where people work or a government or business position to which one was either elected or appointed. The horses were not working in an office. An office to which one is elected or appointed refers to an individual, nor four. I think the correct definition is #13: a service or task to be performed; assignment; chore. This is closest to the original Latin word officium - service, duty, ceremony. I'm sure this would not be the last time the horses would pull a carriage, so the "last office" might refer to the last service or duty the horses performed for Sir Walter, since retrenchment might require him to give up his carriage with four horses.
I wonder why Austen chose to turn a simple sentence into a puzzler. So much of her writing is straight forward, and thus easy to read. Yet, at times she will use a word like "office" in a strange way (for a joke?) or write a sentence so long that it becomes a paragraph filled with dashes, commas and semicolons. For example, just two paragraphs after the trip to Bath, she wrote "Uppercross was a moderate-sized village, ..... (about 120 words later) .... about a quarter of a mile farther on."
Was "office" commonly used in Regency times to mean service? Is this explained in Shapard's annotated Persuasion? By the way, I ordered Shapard's Persuasion and Sense and Sensibility. I already have Shapard's Pride and Prejudice.
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