Kate Atkinson, Behind the Scenes at the Museum


«  The first person they knew that came home on leave was Bill Monroe from Emerald Street and he was followed by a boy from Park Grove Street and one from over on Eldon Terrace, which seemed unfair as Albert had joined up before any of them. There was a big to-do one day because Bill Monroe hadn't gone back when he should have done and they send in military policemen to take him back. His mother barred the front door with a broom handle and had to be lifted out of the way by the military policemen, one at each elbow, and Nell, who happened to be walking home from work along Emerald Street at the time, was reminded of Percy's funeral. She had a further shock when an ordinary, civilian policeman appeared from nowhere and for a second Nell thought it was Percy. For a ridiculous moment she wondered if he'd come back to ask her why there was a little pearl and garnet ring on her engagement finger instead of the sapphire chips he'd given her which were now wrapped in tissue paper and put at the back of her drawer. Bill Monroe was hauled off eventually and Nell didn't linger on the street. She felt embarrassed for him because she'd seen the look of terror on his face and thought how awful it must be to be such a coward and how unpatriotic as well – and she was surprised how many women came up to Mrs Monroe, who was raging and shouting and crying on her doorstep, and told her that she'd done the right thing. Frank came home after the second battle of Ypres(1); he'd been in hospital in Southport with a septic foot and was given a few days' leave before going back to the Front. It was odd because before the war they'd hardly known him yet now he seemed like an old friend and when he came knocking at the back door they both hugged him and made him stay to tea. Nell ran out and got herrings and Lillian cut bread and put out jam and even Rachel asked how he was doing. But when they were all sat round the table, drinking their tea from the best service, the one that had gold rims and little blue forget-me-nots, Frank found himself unexpectedly tongue-tied. He had thought there were a lot of things about the war he wanted to tell them but was surprised to discover that the neat triangles of bread and jam and the prettiness of the little blue forget-me-nots somehow precluded him from talking about trench foot and rats, let alone the many different ways of dying he had witnessed. The smell of death clearly had no place in the parlour of Lowther Street, with the snowy cloth on the table and the glass-bead fringed lamp and the two sisters who had such soft, lovely hair that Frank ached to bury his face in it. He was thinking all these things while chewing his bread and casting around desperately for conversation, until with a nervous gulp from the gold and forget-me-nots he said, "That's a grand cup, you should taste the tea we get," and told them about the chlorinated water in the trenches. When he saw the look of horror on their faces he felt ashamed that he'd ever wanted to talk about death. They, in turn, told him about Billy Monroe and he tut-tutted(2) in the right places although secretly he wished he had a mother who could somehow – anyhow – prevent him having to return to the Front because Frank knew he was going to die if he went back to the war. He listened politely while they told him about all the things they were doing – they showed him their knitting – they'd stopped knitting for the Belgians and now they were knitting socks for soldiers, and Nell told him about her new job, making uniforms, where she'd just been made a forewoman because of her experience with hats, and Lillian was working as a conductress on the trams and Frank raised both eyebrows and said, `Never!' because he couldn't imagine a woman conductress and Lillian giggled. The two sisters were so full of life that in the end the war was left more or less unspoken of, except, of course, to say that Jack was well and sent his love and that he hadn't seen Albert at all but he was a lot safer behind the big guns in the artillery than he would be in the trenches. And Rachel, the toad in the corner, unexpectedly spoke up and said, "It must be dreadful in those trenches," and Frank shrugged and smiled and said, "Oh it's not too bad really, Mrs Barker," and took another drink from his forget-me-not cup. »
Kate Atkinson, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, 1995

Compréhension de l'écrit
1. What is the historical event referred to?
2. What do the following male characters have in common: Albert, Jack, Frank and Bill?
Focus on Bill
a) What was the relationship between Nell and Percy and what happened to both of them? (justify by quoting the text)
b) Can you imagine how Nell feels towards Percy about her new engagement? (justify by quoting the text)
c) Who did he visit when he "came home on leave" and what happened during this visit? (30 words)
d) One character witnessed this episode. What did he or she think about it? (20-30 words)
e) What about the other neighbours' attitude towards this? (20 words)
Put the following events in chronological order:
a) "[…] Bill Monroe hadn't gone back when he should have done […]" .
b) "[…] they made him stay to tea." .
c) "[…] Albert had joined up before any of them." .
d) "Frank came home after the second battle of Ypres […]" .
e) "His mother barred the front door […]" .
f) "The first person they knew that came home on leave was Bill Monroe […]" .
Focus on Frank
a) Why has he come back? (20 words)
b) Where and with whom does he spend one of his days' leave? Give full names whenever possible.
c) How is he considered by these characters? Illustrate your answer with two quotes from the text. (30-40 words)
6. Explain how the war has changed the lives of the female characters. Give examples from the text to illustrate your answer. (60 words)
7. What does Frank really think about what happened to Bill? (30 words)
8. Explain why "[…] Frank found himself unexpectedly tongue-tied." . (50 words)
Expression écrite
Frank returns to the trenches and meets a friend. Frank explains that he almost didn't come back. Write their conversation. (150 words)
(1)The second battle of Ypres: 1915.
(2)He tut-tutted: he made a sound to show his disapproval.


Compréhension de l'écrit
1. The historical event referred to is the first World War/ World War I.
2. They all take part in that war.
a) Nell and Percy were engaged ("[…] the sapphire chips he had given her […]") but Percy died ("Percy's funeral") and Nell is engaged with someone else now ("[…] a little pearl and garnet ring on her engagement finger instead […]").
b) She certainly feels a bit like a traitor because she has replaced Percy's engagement ring by a new one and she has put the sapphire chips in a drawer, I quote: "She had a further shock […]" and "For a ridiculous moment she had wondered if he had come back to ask her […]"
c) He came to visit his mother but didn't go back to the front as he should have so military policemen came to take him and send him back there. His mother tried to prevent the policemen from coming but they got her out of their way.
d) Nell witnessed Bill being taken away by the policemen and she felt both embarrassed, because he looked terrified, and she thought he was a coward and unpatriotic.
e) As opposed to Nell, who hurried away, the other neighbours, mainly women, came to support Mrs Monroe, Bill's mother.
c) "[…] Albert had joined up before any of them." .
f) "The first person they knew that came home on leave was Bill Monroe […]" .
a) "[…] Bill Monroe hadn't gone back when he should have done […]" .
e) "His mother barred the front door […]" .
d) "Frank came home after the second battle of Ypres […]" .
b) "[…] they […] made him stay to tea." .
Focus on Frank
a) He has come back because he was wounded and as a consequence he was given a few days' leave.
b) Frank came home and visited the Barkers, Nell, Lilian and Rachel.
c) He is considered as an old friend of the family.
"[…] he seemed like an old friend […]" .
"[…] they both hugged him and made him stay to tea" .
6. Somehow, the female characters take part in the war as well, they knit for the soldiers "[…] they were knitting socks for the soldiers" and they occupy positions traditionally occupied by men "[…] Nell told him about her new job, making uniforms, where she'd just been made a forewoman […]" , Lillian has a man's job as well "[…] Lillian was working as a conductress on the tram […]"..
7. At first, Frank seems to disapprove of Bill's behaviour, but in fact he understands Bill and he feels the same kind of fright as he is aware he might get killed at the front and he dreads it.
8. "Frank found himself unexpectedly tongue-tied" because the situation was not the one during which you tell about the horrible experiences you have had at the front, like trench foot rats, the different ways of dying, the smell of death. This is frightening and terrible and he doesn't want to talk about all this with them not to spoil the moment.
Expression écrite
Frank: "I must confess that when I was on leave, I really thought I didn't want to come back to the front."
Friend: "Really, I can't believe it. I can't imagine that you would be a deserter."
Frank: "I understand you, but you've not been on leave yet. When you are, you will realize that the situation we are living right now is terrible and unbearable."
Friend: "That's a war, you know, and there's no other way but to fight the enemy if we want to win that war."
Frank: "Are you sure it is the right thing to do? The governments of our countries have decided we are enemies, but are we really? Aren't we just puppets in their hands? They are not the ones who spend their time here in those horrible trenches where you can only breathe the smell of death. Are they aware of what they are doing and asking from us? Do they know how our mothers, wifes, sisters live there and how they feel frightened not to see us come back from the front? I've been on leave, and from the distance you get from the front you become aware that all this is just an absurdity. That it can only bring pain, heart-ache and sorrow and that whatever happens, it's going to leave resentment between peoples in the end which may create a vicious circle and bring other wars because of a feeling of revenge. I have hesitated quite a long time before making a decision and deciding to come back to the front. I just did it because I didn't want my family and friends to see me taken away by policemen to be sent back here knowing I was going to die at one moment or another, but I'm quite sure I will not survive that silly war."