Read The Victorian Chaise Longue by Marghanita Laski Free Online
Book Title: The Victorian Chaise Longue|
The size of the: 371 KB
Edition: Chicago Review Press
Date of issue: January 30th 1984
ISBN 13: 9780897330978
The author of the book: Marghanita Laski
Format files: PDF
Read full description of the books:
A small, but perfectly formed, chilling tale of psychological horror, from a very simple premise.
The GR summary, in its entirety, says, "Tells the story of a young married woman who lies down on a chaise-longue and wakes to find herself imprisoned in the body of her alter ego ninety years before."
Is it a nightmare, time travel, madness or altered state, or (as she eventually wonders), some sort of test from Fate, Providence, or God?
It opens with a bald fear of death: firstly from a quotation of TS Eliot, "I am dying in my own death and the deaths of those after me", and then the opening sentence of the book itself, "Will you give me your word of honour... that I'm not going to die?" (Eliot may have been echoing Cranmer’s “In the midst of life we are in death”, translated from the Latin, “Media vita in morte sumus” for the burial service in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.)
It is told from the view of Melanie, a young wife and new mother in the late 1940s or early 1950s, confined to bed with a long illness. She is also confined by a patronising paternalistic doctor, and a loving but equally patronising husband. When she says she feels silly compared with his intelligence, her husband says "I like you silly" - note the lack of comma. Pampered indulgence, aided by wealth, softens these issues somewhat, but actually makes her helplessness more poignant.
One day, she nods off on the chaise-longue and finds herself almost a century earlier, on the same chaise-longue, addressed as Milly: still bed-bound, but in much humbler and less happy circumstances. And Milly's situation is somewhat mysterious.
Pain of Powerlessness and Separation
The body-swap and the consequent confusion and frustration of not being believed are obvious, but the greatest pain comes from estrangement and separation: being removed from reality, the joys, frustrations and responsibilities of normal life, being imprisoned (literally, in a sick body, in a sickroom, but also by patriarchy and societal expectation), and most of all, separation from one's child.
Having not seen her baby for seven months, Melanie asks, "Do you think he'll know me... do you think it's too late?" and "'When am I going to see him properly?'... She thumped the bed beside her where the baby should lie and had never lain."
In Melanie's world, everything is cold and clinical. She can't even visualise her son's nursery from her bedroom "from which all flavour of love and joy and delight had long since fled." Things are done efficiently, but without warmth: "The knitting had been done, swiftly and beautifully but surely not with love, by Sister Smith."
The other Laski I've read is also about the loss of a child, albeit told in very different genres, and one from a male perspective and the other from a female one: Little Boy Lost.
Despite some similarities, Milly's situation is in many ways the opposite of Melanie's, and the contrasts are obvious from first waking and feeling "not the touch of soft pink wool but harsh rough strangeness".
This only adds to Melanie's confusion as she tries to make sense of her situation: the unknown, combined with eerie familiarity. "There came a new dread, or an old fear long known and endured."
Increasingly, Melanie questions her sanity, as her thoughts and words seem to become less and less her own, with "no control over the words that came... they were alien words and phrases, yet no more deliberately chosen than any words one ordinarily chooses."
Without full control of her own mind, and being told she is not who she thinks she is, Melanie's sense of identity is even more lost than when she was just a helpless patient.
Ultimately, it becomes a mystery for Melanie and the reader.
What would you do, and how would you plan any sort of release or escape, what sort of risks and paradoxes are involved? (view spoiler)[Having made the link between the chaise-longue she bought second-hand and went to sleep on before waking up on it as Milly, Melanie wonders whether leaving it would trap her in Milly's life. What are the risks of submitting to the needs of the "new" body (which must have died many years ago", "If I let it have needs, it becomes mine"? What about praying? After all, "ghosts always go away when you pray" and religion is "the one magic that could not fail". If only she knew more history, perhaps she could predict the future to prove her story, and yet she cannot say such things out loud, "and if I cannot, then even these thoughts I am thinking, has Milly thought them before?" (hide spoiler)]
* "Cunning as a cartload of monkeys if ever she needed to be."
* "The delighted chaos of sleep."
* "The nightmarish voice that binds the limbs in dreadful paralysis while the danger creeps and creeps and at last will leap."
* "The overmantel, which carried so many small objects that she had only a confused impression of worthless trash."
* "Fear was like sea-sickness, it came in great waves, a thunderous beat that drummed in the stomach and made the whole body vibrate."
* When, in the "other" body, she asks about the chaise-longue, "it was told to a listener who knew its background, and to Melanie it must be like a story overheard in a teashop, words with meaning, but no shape".
A Similar Story
For a much shorter, less mysterious take on a similar situation, see the 1890 classic, The Yellow Wall-Paper. My review, HERE, includes a link to a free version on Project Gutenberg.
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Read information about the authorEnglish journalist, radio panelist, and novelist: she also wrote literary biography, plays, and short stories.
Laski was born to a prominent family of Jewish intellectuals: Neville Laski was her father, Moses Gaster her grandfather, and socialist thinker Harold Laski her uncle. She was educated at Lady Barn House School and St Paul's Girls' School in Hammersmith. After a stint in fashion, she read English at Oxford, then married publisher John Howard, and worked in journalism. She began writing once her son and daughter were born.
A well-known critic as well as a novelist, she wrote books on Jane Austen and George Eliot. Ecstasy (1962) explored intense experiences, and Everyday Ecstasy (1974) their social effects. Her distinctive voice was often heard on the radio on The Brains Trust and The Critics; and she submitted a large number of illustrative quotations to the Oxford English Dictionary.
An avowed atheist, she was also a keen supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. Her play, The Offshore Island, is about nuclear warfare.
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