by Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer
In Lemony Snicket’s The Bad Beginning (1999), the custodian of the three Baudelaire orphans, Count Olaf, after hearing that the children had been asked to contact a family friend about him, deplores their difficulties in adjusting to the life he had graciously conceded to them. His words seem to express concern for the children’s welfare. However, up to this point of the novel, he has mostly scolded and yelled at the children, even threatening their lives. His confession does not match his previous actions and demeanor. The very next sentence emphasizes his vile character: “His face was very serious, as if he were very sorry to hear that, but his eyes were shiny and bright, the way they are when someone is telling a joke” (73). This ambiguous facial expression and the italicized word are additional cues for the reader that Count Olaf’s allegation is purely ironic. He has asserted something that is the opposite of what he actually means.