I owe blog readers an apology. I realize now that I completely misread Mrs Jack’s question. First off, Green’s text doesn’t have a “by” after “mean” … The correct sentence is: “What d’you mean quite?” Because I was listening with my American ears, I subconsciously inserted quotation marks around “quite” – and so understood that Violet was asking her mother-in-law why she used that word. But if I’d had my British ears turned on, I would have heard quite in rather a different way. Using more straight-forward syntax, I believe we can phrase Violet’s question as “What do you quite mean?”
… I see no reason to pursue this “interesting” point any further. (Old scholars never die, they just babble more nonsense than they used to.)
Of course, this short section supplies but one example of Green’s whirling, spinning language whose words, images, and intuitions push the boundaries of linearity; challenge our normal processes of understanding; and create worlds for our imagination to swim in that are fascinating and distinctive – yet often impossible to explain or to comprehend with any certainty.