I can't. It seems very odd to me.
Student or Learner
I'm reading The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. In one scene, several characters, including Mrs Viney, were walking into the lobby of a police station. People who were already in the lobby stared at them in open curiosity. And it goes:
"Mrs Viney, in response, seemed to expand into the stares."
As far as I understand, something small can "expand into" something big. But how can a person "expand into" other peoples' stares? I can't figure out what "expand into" means in this context. Can anybody explain this sentence for me?
I imagine that Mrs Viney's image expanded in the people's eyes, but I am not a teacher.
Or probably he/she made people think more about what they were doing there.
Last edited by mawes12; 19-Sep-2015 at 10:08.
Please could you provide us with a sentence or two from before, and after, this one?
Often the setting, or context, of the exact words in the surrounding sentences will enable an understanding of a weird one such as this.
(BrE first language speaker.)
The surrounding sentences are as follows:
"They were shown down a flight of stairs to a public waiting-area noisy with voices and footsteps – another grim lobby, with a dozen poor-looking people in it, who lifted their heads at their approach, broke off their conversations, to stare at them in open curiosity. Mrs Viney, in response, seemed to expand into the stares. A youth in a torn jacket gave up his chair so that she might sit, and she sank on to it in a grateful, unembarrassed way, saying, ‘Thank you, love. Thank you, son.’ She took out her handkerchief and wiped her lips. ‘Oh, my Lord. I can’t hardly believe it. When the policeman stepped into the shop and I saw his face – well, it gave me such a turn."
Does this give any clues to what "expand into" mean here?
Unfortunately it does not properly in this instance!
However the additional context is valuable, in that it has enabled me to develop a feeling, or impression, about the sentence. We are told in the sentence that follows, that she sat in the seat she was offered in an "unembarrassed way", which to me implies that she is so affected by the reason she has gone to the police station she is oblivious to the other people in the waiting room who are blatantly staring at her.
This makes me feel that the sentence in question is implying that, even though people are directly staring at her in a way that would make most people embarrassed, she is completely oblivious to it. Rather than doing something positive in response, like aggressively staring back or retreating in embarrassment, her reaction is one of complete vacancy whereby she sees through (i.e. literally past) them by not focussing on them at all, as they are of no consequence to her.
Although not very flattering, I get the impression of an animal's expression, such as that which a cow has when it chews the cud and stares vacantly into space. It is her "vacancy" that is expanding into (or in response to) the stares. It is the sort of vacancy that people sometimes display when they are in shock. The idea of her being in shock is supported by the fact that she says "Oh, my Lord. I can’t hardly believe it. When the policeman stepped into the shop and I saw his face – well, it gave me such a turn."
I don't know anything about the book, but it appears that she is meant to be from London, and from the way she is speaking it could be set anywhere from the Victorian era through to around 1950-ish.
Does that help at all?
Last edited by Eckaslike; 20-Sep-2015 at 08:07. Reason: Adding an additional thought.
(BrE first language speaker.)
Thanks a lot for your thorough explanation. It does give me a better understanding to this paragraph as a whole.
And yes, the story is based in London and set in 1922. I'm impressed that only such a paragraph is enough for you to know that much. I wish I could be like that, too!