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(From A Terrible Kindness by Jo Browning Wroe, Part II Cambridge Choir, chapter 25)

  • William, the chorister, is spending some of the Christmas holiday with his friend Martin Mussey's family.

'Flo, are you sure you don't want any meat?' Mrs. Mussey says over her shoulder.

William wonders where Flo is going to sit, but she has a coat on and is standing with her back to them, laying a piece of foil over a plate.

'I'm fine with this, thank you.' Flo smiles from the back door; the plate balanced in one hand, 'Goodnight.'

'Goodnight Flo,' the family shout back . . .

'She goes off meat when we eat something she's known since it hatched,' Richard (Martin's brother) tells William, as Flo closes the door with a waft of cold air. 'The softest cook in Sussex.'

William assumed Flo was one of many aunts or godmothers or family friends Martin has talked about. He didn't know families had cooks.

In my opinion the sentence in question is generalising so much so that I'm getting confused. Do all families have a cook in England during the Christmas holiday? 'Families' is italicised in the original, though. This could mean those families who "think quite a bit of themselves" have a cook during Christmas.

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No. A paraphrase is

  • He didn't know that any families had cooks.

(Essentially, he didn't know that cooks existed, except perhaps in large institutions.)

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    Or "He didn't know it was possible for a private family to have a cook". Commented Jun 7 at 16:21
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    "...large institutions" like, for instance, whatever part of Cambridge William and his schoolmates board at (King's College School?). William is used to knowing that his meals are prepared by cooks there. Commented Jun 7 at 17:34

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