I’ve been thinking a lot about metaphors lately, especially the ways in which certain metaphors become ‘real’ while making the things/people they purportedly represent ‘unreal.’ Think, for instance, of Rayna Green’s amazing line: “metaphor signs the real Indian’s death warrant” (“A Tribe Called Wannabe,” 37).
Which brings me to Maria Edgeworth’s “Preface, Addressed to Parents” from Parent’s Assistant, a collection of rather didactic stories for children. Practicing what would become the major claim of An Essay on Irish Bulls, she says: “almost all language is metaphoric . . . slang . . . contains as much and as abstract metaphor, as can be found in the most refined literary language” (vii). But Edgeworth continues on: “All poetical allusions have, however, been avoided in this book” (vii). Together, these two sentences are why I love Edgeworth. She understands that ordinary, everyday language is literary, and can only ever be literary. And then claims she’s going to write in a way that avoids the literary altogether for clarity’s sake.
I don’t think this contradiction is a weakness (coherency is over-rated), but I do think it expresses a profound respect for the power/danger of metaphor (whether intended or unintended).