Is “… his mother was possessed of a tyrannical nature and led her peasants and also her immediate family a miserable life.” correct?

His early youth was spent on a country estate where he was able to observe the life of the
serfs and the relations between master and serf at their worst: his mother was possessed of a tyrannical nature and led her
peasants and also her immediate family a miserable life.

The sentence comes from Nabokov’s Lectures on Russian Literature. Is the sentence correct? Can you lead somebody a miserable life? Or is lead used in the sentence as a verb that is pronounced /lɛd/?

Answer

… his mother was possessed of a tyrannical nature and led her peasants and also her immediate family a miserable life.

In idiomatic Present Day English, lead (past led) is not a ditransitive verb, i.e., one which takes two objects, like elected her president or gave me a lecture.

Curiously enough, this has not always been the case:

… if he behave himself well; but, if otherwise, they lead him a Life (as they say) like a Dog.— Roger North, The Life of the Honourable Sir Dudley North, 1744.

But Nabokov’s lectures were published in 1981.

What is missing is a causative — the tyrannical mother caused them to lead a miserable life – or a resultative — the mother made their lives miserable.

The easiest way to edit the clause would be to add a dependent infinitive:

… his mother was possessed of a tyrannical nature and led her peasants and also her immediate family to suffer a miserable life.

I wonder whether something like this was somehow omitted.

I could not readily find any details about Nabokov’s role in the publication of this book beyond his having given the lectures himself at various American universities. A New York Times review at the time of publication notes:

Fredson Bowers, who edited both volumes, says Nabokov’s lectures were mainly handwritten. Sometimes they lacked clear organization, and parts remained in rough notes.

Whatever the case, a proofreader at the publishing house certainly should have caught the error.

Attribution
Source : Link , Question Author : John Smith , Answer Author : KarlG

Leave a Comment