The School of English: a story by Hilary Mantel
May 9, 2015 8:30 AM   Subscribe

'Beneath those houses,' the butler said, 'you should see what goes on. No one suspects the half of it. The whole earth is dug out. Spaciousness beneath. The panic room is seven times the size of this one. The whole of London can fall down around them and yet their freezer is fully stocked. All showers are multi-jet steam cabinets, plus the kitchen has coffee machine built in, ice machine, temperature-controlled cabinet for wine storage, sous vide machine with vacuum sealer, and an air filtration system that is suitable for allergy sufferers.' [TW: rape]
posted by smcg (9 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Exquisite. What a gift to be able to read that with my morning coffee.
posted by sallybrown at 10:18 AM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is a wonderful story. Awful and wonderful. I adore Hilary Mantel.
posted by thivaia at 10:38 AM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thanks for that!
posted by Paris Elk at 2:04 PM on May 9, 2015

[spoilers follow]

I really enjoyed reading this over my breakfast, but I have to ask—could someone please explain the final paragraph (in particular, the last sentence) of the story like I'm a real dummy? I feel like I'm missing something.

I can't tell if the author is implying something more sinister/unreliable about who this story "happened" to (e.g., "Jonquil was there the whole tiiiime! DUN DUN DUN") or if it's something less twist-ending than that (i.e., Marcella being removed from her job was something that happened to Jonquil... but I didn't get the impression Marcella and Jonquil were super close).
posted by Zephyrial at 3:06 PM on May 9, 2015

[spoiler interpretation]

I didn't see it as a twist ending at all, more that Jonquil was the person who discovered her since she was still in her room when they returned from the ski trip. I felt like Marcella had dissociated and was tempted to see it all as dreamlike, especially given the fact that she seemed essentially interchangeable with other maids. But maybe I am missing something?
posted by mynameisluka at 3:10 PM on May 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

The story was beautifully written, but I feel like it was constantly trying to grab at some greater meaning and failing. The hand waviness about who it happened to, it was actually consent, etc. That just pissed me off.
And, Zephyrial, I don't think it really meant anything, to be honesty. I read the entire story as if some small English woman standing on a soapbox, saying slightly profound but mostly vague sentences, then gesturing to an empty field behind her.
posted by FirstMateKate at 3:15 PM on May 9, 2015

mynameisluka: Ah right, I hadn't connected the detail about the rape happening on Jonquil's bed, that you are probably right about what the author meant. Marcella didn't move and Jonquil found her. Thank you.
posted by Zephyrial at 3:16 PM on May 9, 2015 was actually consent, etc. That just pissed me off.

Among many things, one thing that the story is doing is to make a parallel between the 'consensual rape' and the 'consent' that the immigrant worker gives when they take an job offered by an exploitative employee.

If someone were to say "After all, didn't Marcella consent to the sex? How was it rape if it was consensual?"

You might say: "She was pressured, literally trapped upstairs, with no other choice but to negotiate with a hostile person in a position of power. Yes, she may have said 'I consent', have actively decided to consent, but it doesn't matter. She was coerced into having sex, was effectively raped thanks to the situation's drastic and systematic power imbalance."

The same parallel goes for immigrant labor -- "After all, don't laborers consent to the job? How is it exploitative if the job is a consensual agreement between adults? Isn't the employee being paid?"

And for those who ask: could she have had legal recourse? Called the police? Sued? The last paragraph of the story plays this out as a potential possibility (or a past memory) in a dream-like state -- accusations might be hurled, but a case collapsed, ultimately as a predictable futile exercise.

By collapsing these two experiences together, the story emotionally links something very bodily and visceral and totally outrageous with the more conceptual injustice of exploitative labor practices, especially aimed towards immigrants. At least, for me, it works.
posted by suedehead at 10:12 PM on May 9, 2015 [14 favorites]

I struggle with Mantel's style a lot (which frankly makes me feel like an un-intellectual Cro-Magnon when everyone else adores it, but whatever). I enjoyed Wolf Hall despite rather than because of her style; I found myself too overwhelmed by her style to get a lot out of this. I see the parallels that suedehead is pointing to with regards to consensual rape/consent to exploitation but they didn't quite work for me.
posted by rednikki at 9:46 AM on May 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

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