Tuesday 27 March 2018

Family and Friends: Lili and Ursie

Lili and Ursie come to the Dorns' as maids - 'harsh' and 'hectic', given to weeping when certain pieces of music are being played. The girls are 'foreign', but Brookner will go no further. Something similar is in the air when an impoverished woman arrives on Sofka's doorstep, selling small items, and Sofka recognises her as one Irma Beck, whom she knew 'in the past, in another country'.

We're in chapter 8 by now, more than halfway through the novel, and Brookner cannot any longer step around the realities of her story. But the stories of Lili and Ursula, of Frau Beck, are told with great subtlety: restraint, Brookner suggests, is the only correct response to such horror.

We know the episodes have an autobiographical origin. Here she is talking to the Independent in 1994:
There was the added complication that in the 1930s the house filled up with Jewish refugees, who could come if they found a sponsor, I think, and if they went into domestic service. In the war, again, there were refugees living in the house, until such time as the police turned up to take them off to the Isle of Man and they went to be interned and were never seen again: history does not relate what happened to them. There was a tragic element in childhood. My parents weren't religious, but you couldn't help but be conscious of being Jewish at that time. I knew terrible things were going on, and were coming close, and I suppose that couldn't help but seem menacing.

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