2

In "The Vampire of the Village" by G. K. Chesterton, Father Brown was talking about an old parson and his son, saying:

‘I mean,’ said Father Brown, ‘that the son still speaks of his father in a hard unforgiving way; but he seems after all to have done more than his duty by him. I had a talk with the bank manager, and as we were inquiring in confidence into a serious crime, under authority from the police, he told me the facts. The old clergyman has retired from parish work; indeed, this was never actually his parish. Such of the populace, which is pretty pagan, as goes to church at all, goes to Dutton-Abbot, not a mile away. The old man has no private means, but his son is earning good money; and the old man is well looked after. He gave me some port of absolutely first-class vintage; I saw rows of dusty old bottles of it; and I left him sitting down to a little lunch quite recherche in an old-fashioned style. It must be done on the young man’s money.’

Can "at all" be used in a positive statement, and what does it mean here?

  • 1
    Can “at all” be used in positive statement? I think that part will be more suitable to ELU stackexchange. – Knight Jul 15 at 11:28
6

Yes, "at all" can be used in a positive sense: think of it as the opposite of "not at all".

See for example Macmillan and Cambridge for the usage of "at all" in a positive sense.

In this context, the implication is that much of the populace does not go to church at all: hence the parenthetical "which is pretty pagan". Maybe the structure of this sentence, with many chunks of just a few words separated by commas, is a bit confusing, so let me rephrase it:

Such of the populace, which is pretty pagan, as goes to church at all, goes to Dutton-Abbot, not a mile away.

The populace is pretty pagan, but those who do go to church (at all) go to Dutton-Abbot, less than a mile away.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thank you so much – Ahmed Samir Jul 15 at 11:37
  • ♦ So it wasn't actually his parish, because the people of the village went to another parish? – Ahmed Samir Jul 15 at 19:33
  • 1
    @Ahmed: to me, those two statements aren't directly connected. "The old clergyman has retired from parish work; indeed, this was never actually his parish." means that the old man no longer works for any parish, and that back when he did work for a parish, it was a different parish, perhaps very far away. Father Brown is also pointing out that the people of the village go to another church, which means that this village's church must be unused. I suppose that reinforces the point that the old man could not possibly be working in this village. – Steve Jessop Jul 15 at 20:09
  • 1
    Or possibly the village has no church at all. Either way, there's no job here for a clergyman, especially a retired one. I'm not sure whether Chesterton (or Father Brown) would stick to the traditional English definition, that if a place doesn't have a church then it can't be a "village". A settlement with no church traditionally is just a "hamlet", but "The Vampire of the Hamlet" doesn't sound as good! – Steve Jessop Jul 15 at 20:11
  • @SteveJessop That's really helpful. Thank you so much. – Ahmed Samir Jul 15 at 20:19
4

I'm not certain what you mean by a "positive statement" here, but what Father Brown is saying here is that most of the town's populace are "pagan" (not Christian) and that the ones who do go to church go to Dutton-Abbot. The "at all" here kind of means "even once" or "occasionally" with an implication that few of them do so consistently.

| improve this answer | |
  • So is "Dutton-Abbot" is a fictional theatre? And Does "this was never actually his parish" mean "this never deserved his parish work"? – Ahmed Samir Jul 15 at 18:32
  • 1
    So it wasn't actually his parish, because the people of the village went to another parish, which is far from Potter's Pond"? – Ahmed Samir Jul 15 at 19:12
  • 1
    It's a 14 hour drive, so maybe it's just that parish that was named that. Or Chesterton made some names up to avoid accidental libel. – Sean Duggan Jul 15 at 19:43
  • 1
    Let us continue this discussion in chat. – Ahmed Samir Jul 15 at 20:40
  • 2
    "Positive statement" is a reference to "at all" being a negative polarity item, which would normally be precluded from appearing in an affirmative statement. – Kevin Jul 16 at 2:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.