Monday 6 December 2010

Mrs. Wix and Mademoiselle Leclair

"It was on account of these things that mamma got her for such low pay, really for nothing: so much, one day when Mrs. Wix had accompanied her into the drawing-room and left her, the child heard one of the ladies she found there—a lady with eyebrows arched like skipping-ropes and thick black stitching, like ruled lines for musical notes on beautiful white gloves—announce to another. She knew governesses were poor; Miss Overmore was unmentionably and Mrs. Wix ever so publicly so. Neither this, however, nor the old brown frock nor the diadem nor the button, made a difference for Maisie in the charm put forth through everything, the charm of Mrs. Wix's conveying that somehow, in her ugliness and her poverty, she was peculiarly and soothingly safe; safer than any one in the world, than papa, than mamma, than the lady with the arched eyebrows; safer even, though so much less beautiful, than Miss Overmore, on whose loveliness, as she supposed it, the little girl was faintly conscious that one couldn't rest with quite the same tucked-in and kissed-for-good-night feeling. Mrs. Wix was as safe as Clara Matilda, who was in heaven and yet, embarrassingly, also in Kensal Green, where they had been together to see her little huddled grave." 
-- Henry James, What Maisie Knew (1897)

"Seated by the window with their books piled ready, to pass the time Annabella sketched a bust of Hannah. They were waiting for Mademoiselle Leclair, their French tutor, who hardly seemed a mademoiselle. She was a dumpy spinster from somewhere in Picardy with a pale extensive face that ran mostly downhill from a long, white nose. The girls were too old for this tuition, but continued on improving themselves as they prepared for marriage. Mademoiselle Leclair knew that the classes were a genteel diversion and her manner was kind and encouraging, always patient with the girls' bêtises. Hannah often felt ashamed when she noticed her thick shoulders or the sour warmth of her breath as she read." 
-- Adam Foulds, The Quickening Maze (2009), p. 29


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