Hortense de Monplaisir offers a twisted verdict on the English and the French

Posted in Books, France, The English by Deputy city editor on November 5, 2007

Arielle Dombasle

Why can’t the English be more like the French? Image of Mme Bernard-Henri Lévi chosen by The Sunday Times to illustrate this enigma.

One must admit the brilliance of Sarah Long’s “translation” of Hortense de Monplaisir’s snooty verdict on The English in Le Dossier: How to Survive the English, published by John Murray at £12.99. Sarah Long is a novelist and “met” Hortense at a wine tasting.

In amongst the many genial passages – the book was filleted in yesterday’s Sunday Times – she describes Hortense like this:

Hortense de Monplaisir is from a very old French family who did not need to buy their particule. After studying at Sciences Po, one of the grandes écoles, or top universities, she married a grosse légume in banking and has made a career embellishing his grey world with her vivacious conversation and colourful table displays.

Thanks to her expatriation, her children are bilingual and au fait with binge drinking culture, while preferring to sip Orangina and dance le rock taught by a maître danseur from Paris. She and her husband live in London, but have homes in Paris’s Left Bank and in the Luberon, as well as one-tenth of the family manoir in Brittany.

An incisive observer of the English, she remains French through and through. Her interests include le scrapbooking, painting on porcelain and organising holidays in Verbier, St Barts and the Ile de Ré.

She has an exceptional IQ and is a member of French Mensa.

I think this would be a rival for the best book about France this year except that Graham Robb has already crossed the finishing line. And with the complication that it is not a book about France, precisely. Many of the 115 people commenting on the Sunday Times web site seem to think this is a book about England written by a French woman. And that it is most offensive, to boot. When of course it is also simultaneously the exact opposite – a book about the French, written by a rosbif. Plus also a book about the English by someone pretending to be French. Un engrenage! This is a very good joke. Made even better in the comment sphere, as the “author” is condemned for chauvinism!

Hortense might very well see Sarah Long to a manoir of her own. Ms Long has produced a witty, wicked and twisted parody that is very funny. If nothing else, it is the “translation” of the year.


8 Responses

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  1. Philip Carr-Gomm said, on November 5, 2007 at 5:52 pm

    Is this lovely woman the author?

  2. Jonathan Miller said, on November 5, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    No…she is the wife of a so-called philosopher.

  3. Andrew said, on November 9, 2007 at 4:24 pm

    Nice write-up – I agree totally, although I haven’t read the book yet. (Is that sentence ridiculous enough to be posted on the Sunday Times comment book?)

    I love the outrage of the great British public. What a great sense of humour we have! I did get that Sarah Long was more than a mere translator – my French certainly stretches to understanding “Madame de Monplaisir, c’est moi!”

    And kudos for reproducing the photo of the hot girl – I definitely missed a trick on my blog – a fault which I will now correct!

  4. Scylla & Charydbis said, on November 13, 2007 at 6:46 pm

    A hoax, a spoof which unfortunately involved the unwitting but beautiful, intelligent and elegant Mme. Dombasle. I couldn’t believe the number of oafs that wrote in to the ST.

  5. Scylla & Charybdis said, on November 13, 2007 at 6:47 pm

    please correct fat thumbed typing error in name

  6. Rupert said, on December 10, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    “so-called philospher?” what do you mean by that exactly? is there another kind?

  7. Ines Berrezi said, on January 9, 2008 at 2:10 pm

    I had read the book and is good, very funny observations but
    the author at the end becomes a very empty , materialistic and narrow minded lady who seems to have no feelings but just a coverage of superficiality of her cultural background that she seems to use as make up…daily to look well …..pity I wanted to meet a smart ,nice lady in the book but there isnt ……….sorry. First pages made me laugh a lot but read more and more and I like the english more than before at least they are authentic and have feelings.To be is more important than to seem dear Hortense….:) .

  8. Philip Bang said, on February 28, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    Good stuff, I have a couple of friends who would enjoy reading this. Thankyou 😉

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