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Chapter 8: The Luncheon
I caught sight of her at the play and, in answer to her beckoning, I went over during the interval and sat down beside her. It was long since I had last seen her and if someone had not mentioned her name I hardly think I would have recognised her.
She addressed me brightly. ‘Well, it’s many years since we first met. How time does fly! We’re none of us getting any younger. Do you remember the first time I saw you? You asked me to luncheon.’ Did I remember? It was twenty years ago and I was living in Paris.
I had a tiny apartment in the Latin quarter overlooking a cemetery and I was earning barely enough money to keep the body and soul together. She had read a book of mine and had written to me about it. I answered, thanking her, and presently I received from her another letter saying that she was passing through Paris and would like to have a chat with me; but her time was limited and the only free moment she had was on the following Thursday; she was spending the morning at the Luxembourg and would I give her a little luncheon at Foyot’s afterwards?
Foyot’s is a restaurant at which the French senators eat and it was so far beyond my means that I had never even thought of going there. But I was flattered and I was too young to have learned to say no to a woman. Few men, I may add, learn this until they are too old to make it of any consequence to a woman what they say.
I had eighty francs (gold francs) to last me the rest of the month, and a modest luncheon should not cost more than fifteen. If I cut out coffee for the next two weeks I could manage well enough. I answered that I would meet my friend—by correspondence—at Foyot’s on Thursday at half-past twelve.
She was not so young as I expected and in appearance imposing rather than attractive. She was, in fact, a woman of forty (a charming age, but not one that excites a sudden and devastating passion at first sight), and she gave me the impression of having more teeth, white and large and even, than were necessary for any practical purpose.
She was talkative but since she seemed inclined to talk about me I was prepared to be an attentive listener. I was startled when the bill of fare was brought for the prices were a great deal higher than I had anticipated. But she reassured me.
‘I never eat anything for luncheon.’ She said. ‘Oh, don’t say that!’ I answered generously. ‘I never eat more than one thing. I think people eat far too much nowadays. A little fish, perhaps. I wonder if they have any salmon.’ Well, it was early in the year for salmon and it was not on the bill of fare, but I asked the waiter if there was any.
Yes, a beautiful salmon had just come in, it was the first they had had. I ordered it for my guest. The waiter asked her if she would have something while it was being cooked. ‘No,’ she answered, ‘I never eat more than one thing. Unless you have a little caviare.
I never mind caviare.’ My heart sank a little. I knew I could not afford caviare but I could not very well tell her that. I told the waiter by all means to bring caviare. For myself I chose the cheapest dish on the menu and that was a mutton chop. ‘I think you are unwise to eat meat,’ she said. ‘I don’t know how you can expect to work after eating heavy things like chops.
I don’t believe in overloading my stomach.’ Then came the question of drink. ‘I never drink anything for luncheon,’ she said.
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NCERT Solutions Class 11 English Chapter 8 The Luncheon
1. Although the author was not a vindictive man he was very happy to see the twenty one stone lady who had impoverished him twenty years ago, and says he had finally had his revenge. What makes him say this?
This story relates to incidents which are replete with irony and humour, involving a lady and the author in a restaurant about twenty years ago. The author explains how a lady friend cleverly suggested visiting a high level restaurant, Foyot.
Based on the economic crisis of the author, visiting an expensive restaurant like Foyot with a lady for luncheon was ironical. The author explains in a flashback about how in that situation it became embarrassing for him as he was not able to turn down her request to meet at the restaurant.
For the luncheon, the woman started to place orders for expensive dishes from the menu such as caviare, salmon, asparagus, champagne, etc. without thinking about the bill. Without being able to reveal the situation, the author gave excuses for not ordering food for himself. He had to give all the money which he had with him to pay the bill.
Even a single penny did not remain in his hand and the whole month stood before him. The author was not vindictive and did not say a word to her but endured her. In this situation, the author says on seeing the woman after twenty years that the embarrassment that was done in the restaurant to him was avenged in a course of time as the lady now weighs twenty one stone.
2. There are quite a few places where the author uses the expressions ‘my heart sank’, ‘panic seized’ etc. What was the reason for this?
The expression ‘My heart sank’ was used by the author when the lady ordered for caviare. This expression used by the author explains his inability to afford a caviare. The usage of this expression provides humour to the entire situation.
In another situation, the expression ‘panic seized’ used by the author conveys that apart from embarrassment it was a concern while the lady ordered asparagus as he knew that its cost might exceed his budget. The expression aptly shows the mental state of anticipation and embarrassment of the author at that point.
3. Locate instances of irony in the story.
This story is filled with events of irony. It is a method using which an unpredicted situation is shown by an incident or speech. A situation which is ironical is not anticipated or expected. It occurs as a surprise or shock. In this story, numerous instances are present which are ironical. When the author at the beginning goes to Foyot with a thought that he can manage it within the limited budget, an unexpected thing happens.
He finds that the cost of dishes in the menu is very high and did not expect this. It happens as a surprise or shock and therefore, ironical. The lady first conveys to the author that she never eats anything for lunch.
But she soon remarks that she would love to eat salmon, which is a costly dish in the entire menu which again was ironical. She also goes on to order caviare, champagne and asparagus at the end, which is ironical.
This story contains situations of verbal irony too. The lady’s statement that she never eats anything for luncheon is ironical as she starts to order so many highly priced dishes. Another such instance is when the author conveys to the lady that his doctors have asked him not to drink champagne. Hence, this story is completely built on ironical structure.
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