The Verger

Table of contents
  • What is a “verger”?
  • Where does he live?
  • What does he do?

The Short Story A new vicar has been appointed at St Peter’s Church, Neville Square in London. Accompanied by two distinguished churchwardens2, a lord and a general, he has come to see Albert Edward Foreman, the verger. 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 The vicar began. “Foreman, we’ve got something rather unpleasant to say to you. You’ve been here a great many years and I think his lordship and the general agree with me that you’ve fulfilled your duties to the satisfaction of everybody concerned. The two churchwardens nodded. “But, the other day, I discovered to my astonishment that you could neither read nor write.

” The verger’s face betrayed no sign of embarrassment. “The last vicar knew that, sir”, he replied. “He said it didn’t make any difference.He always said that there was too much education in the world for his taste. ” “It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard”, cried the general. “Do you mean that you’ve been verger of this church for sixteen years and never learned to read or write? ” “I never seemed to have the time. I think a lot of young fellows waste lot of time reading when they might be doing something useful.

” “But don’t you want to know the news? ” said the other churchwarden. “Don’t you ever want to write a letter? ” “No, my lord, I seem to manage very well without. Now they’ve got all those pictures in the papers, I get to know what’s going on pretty well. My wife’s quite a scholar and if I want to write a letter, she writes it for me. ” The two churchwardens gave the vicar a troubled glance and then looked down at the table. “Well, Foreman, these gentlemen agree with me that the situation is impossible.At a church like St.

Peter’s, Neville Square, we cannot have a verger who can neither read nor write. ” Albert Edward’s thin face reddened, but he made no reply. “Understand me, Foreman, I have no complaint to make against you. You do your work quite satisfactorily; I have the highest opinion of your character and of your capacity; but we haven’t the right to take the risk of some accident that might happen owing to your lamentable ignorance. ” “But couldn’t you learn, Foreman? ” asked the general. “No, sir, I’m afraid I couldn’t, not now.You see, I’m not as young as I was and if I couldn’t get the letters in my head when I was a nipper3, I don’t think there’s much chance of it now.

” “We don’t want to be harsh4 with you, Foreman”, said the vicar. “But the churchwardens and I have made up our minds. We’ll give you three months, and if at the end of that time you cannot read and write, I’m afraid you’ll have to go. ” Albert Edward had never liked the new vicar. He’d said from the beginning that they’d made a mistake when they gave him St. Peter’s. “I’m very sorry, sir, I’m afraid it’s no good.

I’m too old a dog to learn new tricks.And if I could learn now, I don’t know if I’d want to. ” “In that case, Foreman, I’m afraid you must go. ” “Yes, Sir, I quite understand. I shall be happy to hand in my resignation5 as soon as you’ve found somebody to take my place. ” 1 2 the verger: le bedeau churchwardens: membres du conseil paroissial. 3 nipper: gamin 4 harsh: severe 5 resignation: a formal statement of your intention to leave a job, position or organization.

The Verger Albert Edward locked the church door behind him. Deep in his sad thoughts, he walked slowly along. His heart was heavy. He did not know what he should do with himself.He sighed deeply. Albert Edward was a non-smoker, but with a certain latitude; that is to say, when he was tired he enjoyed a cigarette. It occurred to him now that one would comfort him and, since he did not carry them, he looked about for a shop where he could buy a packet.

He did not see one and walked on a little. It was a long street, with all sorts of shops in it, but there was not a single one where you could buy cigarettes. “That’s strange”, said Albert Edward. “I can’t be the only man who walks along this street and wants a fag. A fellow might do very well with a little shop here.Tobacco and sweets ..

. That’s an idea. ” He considered the matter from every point of view and next day he went along the street and by good luck found a little shop to let6 that looked as though it would exactly suit him. Twenty-four hours later he had taken it and when, a month after, he left St. Peter’s, Neville Square, for ever, Albert Edward Foreman set up in business as a tobacconist and newsagent. His wife said it was a dreadful comedown7 after being verger of St. Peter’s, but he answered that you had to move with the times, the church wasn’t what it was.

Albert Edward did so well that in a year or so it struck him that he might take a second shop and put a manager in. He looked for another long street that hadn’t got a tobacconist in it and when he found it, and a shop to let, took it. This was a success too. Then it occurred to him that if he could run8 two, he could run half a dozen, so he began walking about London and, whenever he found a long street that had no tobacconist and a shop to let, he took it. In ten years he had acquired ten shops. Every Monday, he went round to all of them, collected the week’s takings and took them to the bank.One morning, when he was there, the cashier told him that the manager would like to see him.

He was shown into an office and the manager shook hands with him. “Mr. Foreman, I wanted to talk to you about the money you’ve got on deposit with us. Do you know exactly how much it is? ” “I’ve got a rough idea. ” “It’s a little over thirty thousand pounds. That’s a very large sum to have on deposit and you’d do better to invest it. ” “I wouldn’t want to take a risk, sir.

I know it’s safe in the bank. ” “You needn’t have the least anxiety. We’ll make you a list of securities.They’ll bring you a better rate of interest than we can possibly afford to give you. We’ll do everything. All you’ll have to do next time you come in is just to sign the transfers. ” “I could do that”, said Albert uncertainly.

“But how would I know what I was signing? ” “I suppose you can read”, said the manager sharply. “Well, sir, that’s just it. I can’t. I know it sounds funny, but there it is, I can’t read or write, only my name, and I only learnt to do that when I went into business. ” The manager was so surprised he jumped up from his chair. “That’s the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever heard. He stared at him as though he were a prehistoric monster.

“Do you mean to say that you’ve built up this important business and amassed a fortune of thirty thousand pounds without being able to read or write? Good God, man, what would you be now if you had been able to? ” “I can tell you that, sir”, said Mr. Foreman, a little smile on his aristocratic features. “I’d be verger of St. Peter’s, Neville Square. ” W. Somerset Maugham (1874-1965) 40 45 50 55 60 65 70 75 80 let: ici, louer (un magasin) comedown: You say that something is a comedown if you think it is not as good as something else that you have just done or had. run: If you run something as a shop, business, organization, etc. , you are in charge of it. -27 6

The Verger Watch & READ

  1. Sum up: Where? Who? What? …
  2. Compare the TV series and the short story. Find at least two major differences.


  • Match these words from the story with the translations below: churchwardens, nipper, harsh, fag, takings, securities.
  • titres, severe, recette, membres du conseil paroissial, gamin, cigarette (fam. ).
  1. Two of the words are rather familiar. Who uses them?
  2. The expression “owing to your lamentable ignorance” is of a higher level of language.Who says it? Can you express it more simply?
  3. Find other examples of different levels of language. What does this tell us about the different characters?
  4. Find proverbial sayings in the text which correspond to the following in French: On n’apprend pas a un vieux singe a faire la grimace. Il faut vivre avec son temps. Explain what they mean in the context of the short story.


The short story takes place in several different places. Choose the right ones in the correct order: a) b) c) d) e) f) a bank a shop the streets of London a village square under fruit trees a church. .

Eight characters are mentioned in the story. Name them, specifying which ones actually take part and in which of the above places they appear. 3. Which of the characters have the following points of view? Be careful, one is not held by any of them: a) b) c) d) e) f) g) Reading and writing are not useful occupations for the young. Being illiterate can be dangerous. Working in a church is far superior to working in a shop. Learning is almost impossible for the old.

Illiteracy and business success are totally incompatible. Church is the ideal place to learn how to read.You can get by in modern life without reading skills. -3- The Verger 4. Pick out three gestures or facial expressions that prove that the churchwardens are more embarrassed than Foreman. Explain why this is so.

The following chart sums up the main events of the story. Say in what order they take place. The first one is done for you: a bright idea a dismissal expansion an ironic conclusion a lonely walk an offer to invest a final opportunity to improve a refusal to learn an amazing discovery a tense meeting. What two reasons are given for Foreman’s dismissal? In your opinion, are they justified? Only two of the following expressions could be used to describe Foreman in the short story.

Which ones? Justify by quoting the text. gentlemanly

  • incompetent
  • rude
  • a heavy smoker
  • noble-looking
  • keen to learn.

“Antonyms” are words that have opposite meanings. Find a pair in lines 36-38. What do they tell us about the verger’s character? 9. Which one of the following plays a key role in the development of the plot?

Explain how.

  • a letter
  • a newspaper
  • a dog
  • a cigarette
  • a sweet
  • a pen
  • a prehistoric monster. 10.

In your opinion, why is it that the TV series doesn’t feature the cigarette as the key element of the plot? 1. “Funny” has two meanings in English: strange and amusing. Which two parts of Foreman’s conversation with the bank manager illustrate each of the meanings?12. What “moral” could you write at the end of the story?

WRITTING Essay (about 300 words) “There’s too much education in the world. ” Explain what this comment means in the context of the short story. Which skills are not developed by a formal educational system? Do you think that an education can sometimes be a handicap?

A father tries to convince his son that education is the only road to success. His son disagrees. Imagine the dialogue. 150 words, bac ES juin 2002) SOME / ANY / NO 1. “Foreman, we’ve got something rather unpleasant to say to you. ” (l. 2).

“… as soon as you’ve found somebody. ” (l. 36-37). Decomposez something et somebody.

S’agit-il d’une chose et d’une personne determinees, encore indeterminees pour l’instant ?

The verger’s face betrayed no sign of embarrassment. (l. 7). He made no reply. (l. 22).

“I have no complaint to make. ” (l. 23). Quel est le quantifieur utilise ? Le verbe se presente-t-il alors sous la forme affirmative, ou sous la forme negative ? -4- The Verger Qu’affirme-t-on lorsqu’on emploie no ? He said it didn’t make any difference (l. 8). A quelle forme est le verbe ? Quel est le quantifieur utilise ensuite ?

“We haven’t the right to take the risk of some accident that might happen… ” (l. 24-25) Accident est-il un denombrable ou un indenombrable ? Singulier ou pluriel ? Some renseigne-t-il ici sur une quantite? Pourquoi ? De quel ordre est l’indetermination apportee par some ici ? I’m afraid it’s no good. (l.33). Quelle est la nature du mot sur lequel porte l’appreciation no ? S’agit-il d’une appreciation portant sur la quantite ou sur la qualite ? CAN / MAY aux styles DIRECT/ INDIRECT 1.There was not a single one where he could buy cigarettes. (l. 43) Transformez l’enonce au present. A quoi etait du le preterit de can ? Can indique-t-il : une propriete du sujet he, une possibilite materielle liee a la situation ? “I could do that”, said Albert uncertainly (l.

70) L’enonce est-il au style direct ou indirect ? Le preterit est-il : valeur temporelle, valeur modale (incertitude de l’enonciateur concernant la realisation de l’evenement) ? Quel mot du contexte vous le prouve ? “I can’t be the only man who… ” (l. 45). Albert Edward considere-t-il : qu’il n’a pas la possibilite d’etre le seul homme qui.

… u’il est impossible / impensable qu’il soit le seul homme qui… ?

“A fellow might do very well with a little shop here. ” (l. 45-46). Cet enonce est-il au style direct ou indirect ? Le preterit de may indique-t-il : que do very well etait eventuellement possible a un moment du passe, une hypothese (do very well) dont la realisation est envisagee comme non-impossible ? It occurred to him that if he could run two, he could run half a dozen. (l. 55-56).

Reformulez au style direct ce que Albert Edward s’est dit. Quel temps avez-vous utilise? A quoi etait du le preterit de can ?Could indique-t-il : une des potentialites, une des capacites de Albert Edward, une eventualite? Comment traduisez-vous cet enonce? 6. It struck him that he might take a second shop. (l. 53). L’enonce est-il au style direct ou indirect ? On a vu a la ligne 48 que might est aussi possible au style direct. Repensez au contexte d’emploi de might dans ce cas avant de repondre a la question suivante.

Albert Edward s’est-il dit “I may take a second shop”? “I might take a second shop”? La regle dite de concordance des temps due au passage au style indirect est-elle valable ici?

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