Texte de Jane Elizabeth Varley


« Nancy had arrived in England six months ago, and had invited Victoria to a coffee morning with Philly Bingham, a fellow mother at the school where Nancy had recently enrolled her son, Connor. All three women had sons in the same class. Alex and Philly's son, Rufus, were old friends, but Connor was becoming popular with his classmates on account of the hundreds of electronic toys and state-of-the-art computer games that filled his enormous bedroom. Also, he had a home cinema in the basement with all the latest films. And Nancy Masters served fabulous teas with real chips and American burgers followed by tubs of expensive ice-cream. Philly Bingham was attempting to stare discreetly around the room, taking in the sound system, the television and the acres of mahogany furniture. Philly, thought Victoria, would probably describe herself as an old-fashioned Englishwoman from an old-established English family. Philly's own drawing room consisted of good but shabby furniture, a few faded rugs and a Labrador. On no account would Philly allow into her house a television the size of the one Nancy possessed. But, then, Philly couldn't afford one. She and her husband had inherited their house from Algy's father, and although Algy had a prestigious job valuing paintings for London's smartest auctioneers his salary barely kept them in pasta. There followed a stilted attempt at conversation. "So, Nancy, how are you settling into London?" asked Victoria politely. "Weeell, I'm finding my feet. I've located the American library, signed on with an American doctor. Of course, the US school was full so we had to put Connor into the local one." Nancy was really getting into the English way of life, then. "And Hayden?" "Weeell, he's kinda busy at work. They've been doing a big takeover(1). The cab comes for him at six." Philly sounded bright. "Oh, that's not too bad. I know these banks can demand the most ghastly(2) hours. So he has the evening with you?" Nancy looked nonplussed. "I mean the cab comes at six in the morning. To go to Canary Wharf(3). He's up at five. He gets home most nights at around eight." "Gosh(4)." Philly was aghast. "How does he keep going?" "Oh, he's pretty health conscious. I watch his diet and I don't let him drink alcohol in the week. And we go jogging at the weekend, that kinda thing." Wow, thought Victoria, life was a bundle of fun for Hayden Masters. "But I still have some things to sort out," continued Nancy. Philly seized deftly on the opportunity to make some suggestions. "Maybe we can give you some pointers. Algy and I have been here for ten years so we know virtually everyone." Nancy seemed doubtful. "I'm kinda hoping to find a decent hairdresser. I find the salons here a little … dull." Her eyes took in Philly's chubby face and her lank brown hair, pushed back for the occasion with a velvet Alice band. "You see, I need volume in my hair, but I cannot find anyone here who can really backcomb." Victoria thought that Nancy's hair was immaculate already, platinum blonde with the ends curled neatly outwards. But she knew just the man to take her on. "Jean-Pierre. He's excellent. I'll write down his number for you." "Is he American?" "French." Nancy looked disappointed, but evidently decided to change the subject. "Let me pass you some biscuits." […] "And how is Ute doing?" enquired Victoria. Nancy sighed. "I suppose I can't complain. We had such a wonderful Mexican lady in Dallas. All legal, of course. We paid for her to be naturalised. Hayden can't take any chances with employing aliens." Philly chocked on her biscuit. Victoria translated: "Aliens are illegal immigrants. It's the American term." Nancy pushed on regardless: "But it's so hard to get domestics here. Ute is my third au-pair already." Philly and Victoria exchanged a glance. Consuela had been with Victoria for nearly five years. Nancy brushed a non-existent crumb from her spotless white polo shirt. "She's fine with cleaning and shopping, but she struggles a little with Connor's homework. And I really cannot trust her with the ironing. I'm having to have all that sent out." "Perhaps she has difficulties with the language," said Philly, trying to be helpful. "I can't help that! She has to take responsibility for her own learning." »
Jane Elizabeth Varley, Wives and Lovers, 2003

Compréhension de l'écrit
1. Nancy Masters, Philly Bingham and Victoria are the three main female characters. Alex, Algy, Connor, Hayden and Rufus are male characters. Each of them is related to one of the three women. Say in what way.
2. How did Alex, Connor and Rufus get to know each other?
3. Where is the scene set (country, city)? In whose house?
4. How long has Nancy been living there and where did she use to live?
5. What does her home reveal about her standard of living? Explain in your own words. (20 words)
a) What do we learn about Nancy's husband's working hours?
b) "I mean the cab comes at six in the morning.". Why does Nancy feel the need to insist on "morning"?
7. How does Nancy make sure such working hours have no consequence on her husband's health? (30 words)
8. "Wow, thought Victoria, life was a bundle of fun for Hayden Masters". Explain in your own words what Victoria really thinks of Hayden's life. (30 words)
9. Has Nancy adopted the culture and way of life of the country she is now living in? Answer in your own words (25 words), then quote at least four elements to support your answer.
a) From "And how is Ute doing? […]" to the end Ute and Consuela are discussed. Say who they are.
b) Contrast Nancy's and Victoria's respective attitudes towards them. (40 words)
11. Who is Philly more likely to feel closer to, Nancy or Victoria? Quote the text to support your answer.
12. To describe the relationships between Victoria, Philly and Nancy the four following titles are all possible. Choose the one you prefer and argue your case. (40 words)
  • An Attempt at Conversation
  • "Desperate Housewives"
  • The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship
  • "Pride and Prejudice"
Expression écrite
Choose subject 1 (a + b) or subject 2.
a) "Connor was becoming popular with his classmates on account of the hundreds of electronic toys and state-of-the-art computer games that filled his enormous bedroom." Does popularity depend on what you have? (150 words)
b) "Algy had a prestigious job valuing paintings for London's smartest auctioneers.". What is your idea of a prestigious job? (150 words)
2. "She has to take responsibility for her own learning." To what extent is an individual responsible for his/her learning or professional training? (300 words)
(1)Takeover: (here) taking control of a company.
(2)Ghastly: frightening, bad and unpleasant.
(3)Canary Wharf: large business and shopping development, in the London Docklands.
(4)Gosh: "Oh my God".


Compréhension de l'écrit
1. Nancy Masters has a son named Connor and a husband called Hayden. Philly Bingham has a son called Rufus. Victoria has a son named Alex and a husband called Algy.
2. The three boys get to know each other since they attend the same class in the same school.
3. The scene is set in England in a well-off district in London, at Nancy's place.
4. Nancy has been living there for 6 months and previously lived in the USA, in Dallas, Texas.
5. Her home reveals she belongs to a high class of the social ladder since she can afford very expensive furniture and all the last technological gadgets as well.
a) Nancy's husband Hayden works a lot since we learn that a taxi comes to fetch him at 6 a.m. in the morning and that he comes back home at about 8 p.m.
b) Nancy insists since Philly thinks Hayden gets back home at 6 p.m. whereas he leaves home at 6 a.m.
7. Nancy feels very concerned about her husband's health as she is very careful about his diet, she makes sure he doesn't drink alcohol during the week and they go jogging together at weekends.
8. Through this sentence, we clearly understand that Victoria thinks that kind of life is not pleasant and funny at all as Hayden works for hours and he's surveyed by his wife who allows him nothing but only a very strict diet on healthy food. Moreover she kind of obliges him to practice sport at weekends. Victoria is critical.
9. Nancy has not adopted the culture and way of life of the country at all. On the contrary she clings to her American way of life and culture. She has:
  • "located the American library",
  • "signed on with an American doctor",
  • "the US school was full so we had to put Connor into the local one",
  • "I'm kinda hoping to find a decent hairdresser. I find the salons here a little […] dull".
a) Ute is an au-pair girl who works for Nancy. Consuela is Victoria's cleaning-lady.
b) Nancy is very demanding, she is not that much satisfied with Ute who is her third au-pair, as she wants her to accomplish many chores in the house and even help Connor with his homework. As a consequence she criticizes her abilities and is a bit doubtful about some of them. We may guess she will change au-pair until she finds the perfect one for her. On the contrary, Victoria is fully satisfied with her au-pair Consuelo.
11. Philly is more likely to feel closer to Victoria:
  • "Philly chocked on her biscuit",
  • "Philly and Victoria exchanged a glance".
12. "An attempt at Conversation": the three women are really different and the conversation is not easy. They do not share the same views, they have a different culture consequently their values are not the same. They only share the fact that their sons attend the same school. "There followed a stilted attempt at conversation".
Expression écrite
a) I must say that I believe that it is a terrible thing if popularity depends on what a person has.
If people have relationships with other people only on account of what the other one possesses, in that case we can say these people are superficial and down-to-earth and they must not be very interesting people but rather materialistic and interested.
Popularity means having friends, and friends must be interested in sharing values, points of view. Friends have to be attentive one to another, they have to show good human qualities which are much more important than belongings. They have to be friendly, affectionate, devoted, likeable, pleasing. People can only be friends and share real good moments if they have these basic and necessary qualities.
b) To me, a prestigious job has to do with the importance and impact it has on people's lives. So these jobs have to do with politics, health, people's welfare.
Needless to say that to me actor or singer don't have a prestigious job. It is not because they are famous and popular that we can say they have a prestigious one. Many other people who are not necessarily well-known have a prestigious job, for instance doctors who devote their life to cure people clearly have one of these jobs.
Real politicians like Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela or others less popular but who have been given the Nobel Prize for peace and who have devoted their life to improve people's lives have had or have a prestigious job.
All this goes to show that for many people a prestigious job is being famous or being well-paid. To me this is nonsense and prestigious doesn't mean that at all.
2. It is obvious that each individual is responsible for his/her learning or professional training since no one can learn for them. Of course, it is also necessary to have good teachers or educators, but if people don't want to learn although they are given the best teachers or educators they won't succeed in learning or training. As the old saying goes: "It takes two to tango". Education or training can only be achieved if the person who has to learn or train does the necessary job.
However, we can also say that it also depends on the place where you live. If you live in a developed country, there's no problem for you to be given real opportunities to learn or to train, but if you live in a developing country it is totally different as schools are sometimes scarce and not compulsory, or so expensive that many families can't afford to send their children there.
We all know or have heard of these children slaves who work at a very young age and are exploited by bosses in sweatshops of developing countries because, as it is impossible for their parents to make ends meet, they have no choice but to work and they forget about learning or training which is absolutely disgusting.
But we can also say that even in developed countries where everybody can attend school to learn, people are not on the same equal footing as we all know of people who have been in class with us and who had to work hard to succeed as it was much more difficult for them compared to others. We are not equal when it comes to learning. We are not given the same abilities and the same opportunities in life to learn and because of that some fail. In that case, can we blame them for not having succeeded and can we say that they really are responsible? Many things have to be taken into account. As a consequence, we may say that not everybody is responsible for his/ her learning and professional training.