Thursday, 27 August 2009

Hetty Dorval



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.




4 comments:

StuckInABook said...

Oo, I've had my eye on this one for a while... now more intensely! (I must remember that I have about 20 unread Persephone books)

Paperback Reader said...

I find it really hard to remember the unread ones too, especially when there are so many tempting me...

savidgereads said...

A woman of no reputation sounds very intriguing. I have to say about a year ago I would have said you wouldnt get me reading a Persephone read, I am so glad you have I am loving 'Good Evening Mrs Craven' its superb! This sounds like ANOTHER great Persephone Read.

Paperback Reader said...

It is another great Persephone (all of them are special though!) Very subtle.
I am so glad that you are enjoying Good Evening Mrs Craven and that I influenced you some in attempting a Persephone!