Posts Tagged ‘Helen DeWitt’

The English Understand Wool’ by Helen DeWitt’ – A Novella that Avoids Mauvais Ton (bad taste)


‘The English Understand Wool’ by Helen DeWitt    (2022) – 65 pages


My early background has not permitted me to have much empathy for the upper classes, but occasionally I find myself reading fictions about them.

‘The English Understand Wool’ is written from the point of view of 17 year-old Marguerite who has been brought up in refinement by her Maman. The avoidance of mauvais ton (bad taste) is the guiding standard by which Maman and Marguerite live.

I spent a week at the keyboard. It seem to me that if I continued to work my way through Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier this would be a strong guard against acting in mauvais ton.”

Unfortunately Maman absconds with a fortune that Marguerite was to inherit.

The Paris publishers believe that Marguerite’s first-person account of her plight would make for a sensational true-life book. Her editor wants her to express her feelings about losing her fortune, but Marguerite remains loyal to her Maman.

So perhaps there were people who would like to hear about feelings, but I did not think they were people I would want to know.”

Despite the theft of her fortune, Marguerite remains thankful to her Maman for inculcating her with those aristocratic values.

This novella is written in such a way that one cannot say for sure if it is a broad parody of upper class values or a spirited defense of them.

‘The English Understand Wool’ is one of the novellas in a new New Directions series of novellas called ND Storybook.

Our new series of slim hardcover fiction books—aims to deliver the pleasure one felt as a child reading a marvelous book from cover to cover in an afternoon.”

So far there are six novellas in the series with an intriguing list of authors: César Aira, Osamu Dazai, Helen DeWitt, László Krasznahorkai, Clarice Lispector, Yoko Tawada.


Grade:    B


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