What is the meaning of "I would not now have exchanged" in this sentence?


  That night, on going to bed, I forgot to prepare in imagination the Barmecide supper of hot roast potatoes, or white bread and new milk, with which I was wont to amuse my inward cravings: I feasted instead on the spectacle of ideal drawings, which I saw in the dark; all the work of my own hands: freely pencilled houses and trees, picturesque rocks and ruins, Cuyp-like groups of cattle, sweet paintings of butterflies hovering over unblown roses, of birds picking at ripe cherries, of wren's nests enclosing pearl-like eggs, wreathed about with young ivy sprays. I examined, too, in thought, the possibility of my ever being able to translate currently a certain little French story which Madame Pierrot had that day shown me; nor was that problem solved to my satisfaction ere I fell sweetly asleep. I examined, too, in thought, the possibility of my ever being able to translate currently a certain little French story which Madame Pierrot had that day shown me; nor was that problem solved to my satisfaction ere I fell sweetly asleep.
 Well has Solomon said -- “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.”
 I would not now have exchanged Lowood with all its privations for Gateshead and its daily luxuries.

-- Chapter 8, Jane Eyre

  1. Does the last sentence mean that the decision in the past has a relation with the present, that is, I haven’t changed my mind still now?

  2. Or is it just a recollection, in the present, that I came to that decision in the past?

If the first is right, the original sentence is different in the meaning from this sentence, isn’t it?

I decided then I would not exchange Lowood with all its privation for Gateshead and its luxuries.

If the second is right, there’s no difference between the original and the above sentence, isn’t it?


Posted 2013-03-03T23:49:10.540

Reputation: 25 811



Although this looks like an ordinary present perfect, you are dealing with a modal verb here, and the sense is that you describe in your (2).

Here's how it works.

An ordinary present-tense indicative sentence would read

I will not exchange Lowood … for Gateshead …

If tomorrow you look back and remember what you said today, you cast this into the past:

I would not exchange Lowood … for Gateshead …

But suppose what you say (today) is something like:

Even if you paid me a million dollars I would not exchange Lowood … for Gateshead …

When you come to cast this into the past, you have a problem: it’s already using the past form to express the ‘hypothetical’ character of your assertion.

In such cases, English uses the construction past-modal + have + past-participle to express the simple past sense of the past-modal.

It’s a present perfect construction only in form; the sense is simple past.

Accordingly it means exactly what you say: a recollection, in the present, of what you decided in the past.

StoneyB on hiatus

Posted 2013-03-03T23:49:10.540

Reputation: 176 469

I think that that now indicates the sentence is a free indirect speech that goes through Jane's mind. @FumbleFingers – Kinzle B – 2015-11-08T08:57:24.523

@Kinzle: I'm not clear what you mean by "free indirect speech" there. But it seems to me that use of the pronoun I implies "direct speech", regardless of whether the words were actually spoken out loud, or simply formulated in Jane's mind. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2015-11-08T15:45:17.933

I’ve printed your comments and pasted them into my grammar book. I have five of them and two syntax books, yet there’s none describing so delicately and pointedly about my questions. I wonder whether it’s from your artistic delicacy or your academic background or both. Especially your recent three replies I sincerely appreciate. Thank you very much. – Listenever – 2013-03-04T00:43:48.690

@Listenever You are very gracious. But the gratitude is on my side: your questions make me think hard about my language, my Great Mother, whom I have taken for granted too long. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-03-04T00:54:46.720

@StoneyB- The way I read that sentence it means, If I had it to do over today, I wouldn't make that exchange like I did before. – Jim – 2013-03-04T03:23:42.420

@Listenever,StoneyB: We're not helped when talking about "tense" here by the fact that the citation (which is entirely in "the past") happens to include the word "now" in a context where really it means "then". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-03-05T03:10:57.940

@FumbleFingers I dropped the now precisely because it might confuse the discussion of tense. But in narrative (whether fictional or historical), now refers to Reference time, not Utterance time, unless the author takes pains to shift Reference time back into Utterance time: “Having abstained from consular candidacy in 50, Caesar now sought to have the ratio absentis extended beyond the point for which it was first intended.” (Gruen, The Last Generation of the Roman Republic, 1974). OP makes your point in her rewrite. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-03-05T03:25:26.240

@StoneyB: I don't have a problem with past tense narrative "now", but I'm not sure OP gets it (even now! :). Incidentally, so far as I'm concerned, all the citation asserts is that at some earlier time she either did or would have made the exchange "now" being repudiated. Obviously in the full context the reader (should) know for certain whether she actually did or just would have, if she'd been offered the chance. But that really is "Lit Crit" - what we should be looking at here is the fact of those two possible meanings. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-03-05T03:34:51.850

@FumbleFingers Out of any context, yes, it could have present bearing; in a narrative context (which is supplied) it does not. But the narrative does not assert that "at some earlier time, &c"; that is your inference. It happens to be correct; but that, as you say, is LitCrit, and speaks to your knowledge of the genre, not of the language. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-03-05T03:58:04.357

@StoneyB: I don't get that. Are you saying you think Jane could not use exactly the same words whether she previously did or simply would have made the exchange? I can't see how either possibility is excluded unless you know the rest of the narrative context (i.e. - what actually had happened earlier in the story). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-03-05T04:03:06.647

1@FumbleFingers No, no; I'm saying either of those could be true, as you infer, or neither. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-03-05T04:13:59.757

"neither" is a good point I hadn't really considered. She might never have even been aware previously of the possibility of making the exchange, and at time of writing may have no strong feeling one way or the other as to what choice she would have made had the option in fact been considered previously. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-03-05T04:22:48.580

@FumbleFingers She might indeed have encountered the option only later; it could be a dark foreboding. – StoneyB on hiatus – 2013-03-05T04:35:34.860