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Using authentic literary text with advanced learners
Katherine Byrne
- lesson materials

Snake book cover

Text for stage 1

Je Suis une Dame!

BILLIE WAS NOTICING how Irene, in her excitement, kept forgetting herself. She'd break into a stride, causing the silk of her wedding dress to pull tight across her thighs. Thus checked, she reverted to smaller, more ladylike steps. The next minute, though, her gait widened, and she was off again, hiking from group to group in her parents' garden, proferring her cheek for kisses, accepting good wishes, queen for the day.
With the war ended, girls were scrambling for husbands as if they were playing musical chairs, or so it seemed to Billie. And Irene was scrambling harder than most, probably because she had lost face when a fling with a Yank soldier fizzled. The relationship had progressed as far as an engagement ring, and then the young man returned from whence he came - the land of canned ham and chewing gum - and was never heard from again.
Irene's next boyfriend was a Maori, from a company of native New Zealanders. Misalliances were the order of the day, but gossip about that twosome ricocheted around the AWACs barracks like a bullet. Some of the women were of the opinion that Irene had taken up with him deliberately, to shock, but Billie disagreed. Irene acted on impulse, she told them, and didn't give too much thought to things.
These same women said Irene was 'fast' and Billie supposed she was: Irene was notorious for breaking the rules, climbing out the window after lights were out, off to a movie or a dance. They said she was a man's woman, and it was true that Irene quickened in the company of the opposite sex; she came alive as water does when invaded by schools of turning fish. Men responded in kind; no need to cajole.

I Will Walk Within My House with a Perfect Heart

IRENE'S MOTHER'S DOMINANT emotion on the day of the wedding was relief: Rex was white, Protestant, presentable. With Irene, one never knew. She viewed Irene as a changeling in the nest. From early on her daughter's guile had been a source of dismay. And then the war came, and Irene went - what was the phrase people used? - man-crazy.
Irene's mother was a punctilious woman. She was like a toy electric train whizzing along its track, under the pass, over a trestle, by the signal box, and back round again. Every night she smoothed on face cream and slipped between starched sheets, where she read a psalm before switching off the light -'I will sing of mercy and judgment: unto thee, O Lord, will I sing' was a favorite - and falling almost immediately asleep. On rising, she flexed her limbs in a series of exercises that never varied. Erect posture and a firm bosom - shopgirls say bustline, we say bosom - were a creed with her.

One of Nature's Gentlemen

IRENE CAME TO a halt by her husband, but her feet did not stay still; they jiggled. Her father saw this and thought, as he often had, she dances to a tune no one else hears. He glanced at his watch, wondering how long it would be before the guests departed and he could disappear into his greenhouse, where there was a Gloriosa superba in bloom. He had a passion for the Liiaceae family, which he much preferred to his human one, being the kind of man who recoiled from clamor.

Oh Such a Hungry Yearning

IRENE'S FATHER WAS wrong: the tunes in Irene's head were not her exclusive property. They were known to millions, big band tunes for the most part: insistent trumpets, urgent saxophones, persuasive clarinets. Irene was under the spell of music that was strutting, silky, optimistic, in thrall to smoky-voiced singers and innuendo-laced lyrics. Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, Frank Siqnatra and Peggy Lee, they were the snake charmers and Irene the snake.
Billie was closer to being right about Irene than any who toasted her on the occasion of her marriage to Rex: Irene's motives were not complicated or deep. She was only twenty years old, her getting of wisdom had been in the precipitous, snuggle-and-kiss years of World War II. She had only one thought in her head the day of her wedding: My life is about to begin.

Text for stage 1

Billie - Wilhelmina at her christening, Billie thereafter - was Irene's bridesmaid and pal from the army. Her eyes skipped over the guests until she located the groom, whose name was Rex. He was chatting with Irene's parents, a handsome fellow with a gentle manner and a modest row of medals pinned to his uniform, and of interest beyond his role as groom, being freshly returned from the Victory March in London. Billie found it easy to understand why Irene had fallen for him. But, poor lamb, he did look bewildered, rather like a schoolboy who'd lost his lunch money.

Billie turned her attention to Irene's parents. They were still engaged in conversation with Rex. Irene's mother was adjusting the spray of orchids she was wearing on her shoulder, and her father was replying to something Rex had said and nodding at guests as they walked by. Her mother was tall and thin and had an ungenerous set to her mouth, in contrast to her father, who was small and round, with a self-effacing air.
'Mere et père,' said Billie, showing off her schoolgirl French. Next, she cast around for Daphne, Irene's older sister and the matron of honor. But Daphne had disappeared.

Good Lord, Deliver Us

DAPHNE WAS AT the bottom of the garden, where there was a swing seat with a canvas awning. She was pushing hard with her heels - the seat was fairly rattling with effort! - and deci~ing that Irene was in for a comeuppance. Rex was a nice enough chap but about as interesting as a month of rainy Sundays. Irene will be bored with him before they arrive at the Blue Mountains guesthouse for their honeymoon.
Daphne based her estimation of Rex on the answer she had received when she questioned him about the Victory March. She had expected a vivid picture of the celebrations - the water cannon and fireworks, the Royal Family - but Rex declined to describe anything, saying he had been marching and the only view he'd had was of the neck of the man in front of him. And, he'd confided, it was a dirty neck. Uncertain how that last observation would be received, he punctuated it with a bleat of nervous laughter.

The Wind at Your Door

REX KNEW IRENE'S family's opinion of him. Snobs, he said to himself, the first time he met them. It hadn't mattered; he was marrying Irene and not them. But now that the deed was done, he was filled with foreboding. He imagined leaving the wedding breakfast, the cake with its little pillars and artificial flowers and net bows, the guests chittering like starlings in a tree, closing the front gate after him with a click, and walking down the suburban Street, past the high hedges and tennis courts and the houses with their circular driveways, as if he were Gulliver in Lilliput, past Parramatta, over the Blue Mountains, coastal green turning to desiccated brown, until he was far away, until he was home.
He stifled the urge to cry. He had cried only once in his adult life, and that was the day he event to the Royal Sydney Showground to enlist. It was his first time in a city, and he had not known how to do the simplest things, such as
purchase a ticket for a bus, and was too proud, too shy, to ask for assistance.
He somehow found his way by foot from Central Station to the showground at Randwick, where he was told to take off his clothes and line up with other enlistees, also naked, to be scrutinized by boot-clicking officers with moustaches that framed mouths that seemed unnaturally small and red-lipped.
Being fastidious in his personal habits - his family never intruded on one another - and never having had communal contact with boys other than his brother, he was humiliated by the order to strip down and stand 'in the nuddy.' In truth, he found this more shocking than the horrors of war, men split open like pomegranates left on the branch. He was a farm boy and refused to be sentimental; innards were innards, men or sheep.
He went from the showground to his Aunt Em's, to spend the night. She was a spinster who lived at Coogee and worked behind the stocking counter at Anthony Hordern's. He stood on her doormat, under a weak porch light, and before she could say a word of welcome, he began to cry, not silently but with racking sobs, venting his anguish about all that had gone before, all that was in front of him.
Rex glanced at Irene. She was glowing with happiness. The sight of her caused his nature - practical, honorable - to assert itself. He put his misgivings aside, hid them under a pile of other thoughts, as if they were shirts without buttons or bills that needed paying. What was done was done. Without being conscious of it, he coughed self-importantly - I am a man, I have a wife - and squirmed inside the jacket of his uniform until it sat better on his shoulders.

Tasks for stage 2

Reading comprehension & analysis

1) Decide if the following statements are True of False. What does it say in the text to support your answer?

a) Rex is uncertain that he is doing the right thing on his wedding day.

a) Rex has grown up in the countryside.

a) He has been traumatised by what he saw during World War 2.

2) The writer uses figurative language (similes and metaphors) to describe the characters and their experiences. What do the following examples suggest to you, and why?

a) "like a schoolboy who had lost his lunch money." (page 1, line 12)

b) "Rex ….. about as interesting as a month of rainy Sundays."
(page 2, lines 6 & 7)

b) "men split open like pomegranates left on the branch." (page 4, lines 16 &

3) Which of the following adjectives would you choose to describe Rex?

extrovert shy worldly introspective practical

sensitive unsure self-confident

Can you think of any others?

4) What do you think the writer's attitude towards him is?

Tasks for stage 2

Reading comprehension & analysis

1) Decide if the following statements are True or False. What does it say in the text to support your answer?

a) Irene does not enjoy being the centre of attention at the wedding.

a) Rex is Irene's first serious relationship.

a) Irene was very keen to find a husband at the end of the war.

2) The writer uses figurative language (similes and metaphors) to describe the characters and their experiences. What do the following examples suggest to you, and why?

a) "she came alive as water does when invaded by schools of turning
fish." (page 2, lines 25 & 26)

a) "they were the snake charmers and Irene the snake." (page 5, lines 9 &

a) " She was like a toy electric train whizzing along its track,.. "
(Irene's mother, page 3, lines 9, 10 & 11)

3) Which of the following adjectives would you choose to describe Irene?

intellectual shallow sensitive thoughtful rebellious

experienced introverted timid

Can you think of any others?

4) What do you think the writer's attitude towards the character is?

Texts for stage 5

Robert Kitson at Stadio FIarninio
Italy 9
England 45
How different it was all supposed to be. All those grand slain roads leading to Rome, all those past Six Nations disappointments blown away like so much froth off a celebratory cappuccino. Instead England's championship season ended yesterday much as it had begun in Edinburgh, with one of those solid wins not destined to linger long in the collective memory.

From The Guardian - 8.4.02

According to one convincing theory, Queen Mary had singled Elizabeth out from youth as a potential bride for the younger prince, Albert, Duke of York, known as "Bertie", and later George VI. The couple met as children; he was a close friend of her elder brothers, a visitor to a house which was a liberating contrast to his own home. His mother was so shy, that she barely spoke in public during 25 years as queen. His father George V, ran the monarchy like clockwork, but was so inhibited that Mary once complained that he was incapable of saying to her in person what he wrote in formal love letters on her birthdays.

From The Guardian Online - 1.4.02

Elizabeth once said that what most helped her to get back into harness after George Vi's loss was a quotation from William Blake that she discovered in an annual report of one of her 300 organisations the North lslington infant welfare centre: 'Labour well the minute particulars attend to the little ones! And those who are in misery cannot remain so, long."

From The Guardian Online - 1.4.02


Thatcher's exit means that women can be themselves

She smashed the glass ceiling but was a destructive female role model

Jackie Ashley
Guardian - Wednesday March 27, 2002

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