Thursday, 27 August 2009
After reading fleur fisher's review, I was intrigued by Hetty Dorval by Ethel Wilson, and anxious to read it. I find that my anxiety to read a book as soon as possible often results in rash purchases but luckily Verity had a copy and when we met yesterday afternoon I borrowed it from her, began reading it immediately, and finished it last night. It is a very quick read and is one of Persephone's shorter titles.
I knew nothing of Ethel Wilson and her reputation in Canada and this short story is all about reputation or of a "woman of no reputation". Less about Hetty Dorval, it is actually a coming-of-age story about Frankie Burnaby and her various encounters with Hetty Dorval over the years, and the effect that the older woman has on her. Frankie's parents think of Hetty as "The Menace" and forbid Frankie to speak with her, knowing nothing of her except of the hint of scandal that has followed her from Shanghai to Lytton, near Vancouver. This clever little book, which is compelling, is about the insidious danger of gossip as much as it is about the insidious nature of people with faces like angels. I found it quite hard-hitting in its way; I am sure we have all encountered people who are not what they seem and who sometimes we are desperate to eject from our lives before they harm us or the ones we love. However, it is also about prejudice - is Hetty as awful as everybody makes out and were Frankie's innocent first impressions as a naive child more accurate than her adult prejudiced by gossip and influence take? This is definitely morally ambiguously but what is clear is that Frankie has matured and Hetty stays the same, seeking to be alone outwith society and their judgement, but as is mentioned in the text, by quoting Donne: "no man is an island" and apparently no woman either.