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The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita…
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The Victorian Chaise-Longue (1953)

by Marghanita Laski

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As this book begins, the reader is introduced to Melanie, a 1950′s wife and mother who has been confined to her bed since the birth of her child as she was taken ill with tuberculosis and has consequently been unable to see her child in case the excitement is too much for her weakened constitution. As the novella starts, the doctor decides that Melanie is well enough to spend the afternoon in a different room to give her a change of scenery and she is carried to the Victorian chaise-longue of the title, a peculiarly compelling item of furniture which Melanie purchased in an antique shop whilst shopping in search of a crib for her coming baby. There, she falls asleep, but on waking Melanie finds herself no longer in the 1950′s but back in 1864 and so the nightmare begins.

I thought that Melanie (or Milly as she is known in 1864) was a very interesting character. When the reader sees her in the 1950′s she comes across as docile and rather vacuous, relying on her husband, the nurse and the doctor without any particular opinions or influence of her own, but there is still the feeling that there is something behind her perfect housewife exterior, an intelligence which she keeps hidden for some reason. Ironically, it is only when she is transported back to 1864 that this is revealed: in the modern setting the reader is kept out of Melanie’s head, wheareas all of the Victorian section is shown entirely through her thoughts and reactions. She starts to express her thoughts and try to act only at the time when she is most helpless and she no longer has other people around her to act as props. The nightmare experience of finding herself in an alien time period is the catalyst which forces her to become independent and so in a peculiar way the reader watches her becoming free even as she is trapped.

The most thought provoking aspect of this book is its ambiguity; as I’ve observed, the reader only experiences the time travel through Melanie’s mind and so it is impossible to say what exactly is going on. Is she dreaming? Is she mad? Has she really travelled in time? She retains her modern sensibilities and is aware of herself as Melanie, not Milly, but also has some of Milly’s memories, so who is she really? Has she regressed to a past life? Can she get back or is she trapped? If she dies in the past, what happens to her in the present? The reader is just as confused and disoriented by this sudden, unpredicted change in the direction of the narrative as Melanie is and so is drawn into her panic and horror. ( )
  Ygraine | May 7, 2014 |
This is a short and surprising book, about a woman transported back in time.

Melanie is a 1950s housewife who is recovering both from giving birth and then a fit of TB. After being confined to bed for several months, she is allowed to have a change of scene - lying down on the Chaise Longue she had picked up on a whim in a second hand shop.

After a nap, she wakes up to find herself in a room she doesnt recognise, wearing clothes she doesnt own and being called a different name. It seems she has travelled back to the 1860s. She has no idea how she got there and how she can get back to her own time and place.

Is she dreaming? Has she actually travelled back in time?

Millie's restricted life (she's very ill and incapable of much movement) and Melanie never sees anything beyond the one room. She is courted by someone she doesnt really trust and finally comes to believe that she is dying - either in this timeline or in her "real" timeline of the 1950s. The book leaves it where you can then decide what was real and whether you believe she actually dies (and from what). If she dies in 1846, does she die in the 1950s? Who will miss her?
  nordie | Sep 7, 2011 |
This is only a short book - 125 pages in large font, and it doesn't take long to read: I chose it for the hour-long train journey down to the University, and completed it during the return leg. In retrospect, I wished I had chosen something else. What I really needed was a book to help me forget where I was, to insulate me from the tedium of the journey, but here was a book which bored me as much as the trip. At no stage did I feel myself to be engaged or diverted; I never felt particularly interested in the story or the characters. I didn't find the atmosphere eerie and claustrophobic, I found it artificial and I thought the discussions lacked in depth and insight. In summary, the story seemed tedious and trivial, the book vapid. But it is only fair to note that this seems to be a minority position, and in general The Victorian Chaise-Longue is more favourably reviewed. Continued ( )
  apenguinaweek | May 11, 2011 |
A very very creepy short novel that was like nothing I've ever read before.
  kdcdavis | Feb 27, 2011 |
Melanie, who has a seven-month-old baby, had been diagnosed as tubercular in the early stages of her pregnancy. Since the child's birth she has been unable to see it or play with it, for fear that the 'excitement' might bring on an attack. Her doctor finally concedes that she may leave the bed in which she was restlessly confined during her pregnancy, if she will consent to rest well in a different room. She chooses to recline on the chaise longue she bought cheaply on the day of the consultation with the chest specialist who confirmed the TB diagnosis.

Melanie is ecstatic to see the view from a different room, and after a short while she falls asleep on the chaise longue. She wakes to find herself still on the chaise longue but her identity has changed. She is Milly, and gradually she learns that the year is 1864 and that she is being cared for by her sister Adelaide. Desperately Melanie clings to the idea that she's dreaming, trying to wake herself so that she can be released from the dream. Eventually she comes to the conclusion that she has (in body? in spirit?) somehow been transported into the past. "Time may be going not in a straight line but in all directions and in no direction..." Her one goal is to get back to the 'present', her life with Guy and her young baby.

She reflects on how she felt when she fell asleep as Melanie: "It is the ecstasy that is to be feared, she said with a shuddering assurance, it is a separation and a severance from reality and time, and it is not safe."

It becomes apparent that Milly is also consumptive, and under a cloud of some sort - there is a suggestion (which later proves to be true) that Milly has given birth to an illegitimate child. In order to keep the pregnancy secret, it seems, Milly and her sister put off all visits from her regular doctor until the child was born, a course of action (or inaction) her doctor believes is the reason why her consumption has become as bad as it is. Milly is expected to die very shortly, and it is her desperate screams for her baby (reminiscent of Melanie's desperation to be reunited with her child) that brings on a huge haemorrhage.

Novella-length, this beautifully-written, carefully-controlled story makes a wonderful companion to Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper - both women made to 'rest' as a way of curing their symptoms. Also a similar feeling of women stifled by inanimate objects found in the home, perhaps the homes themselves; and a similar feeling of everything spinning out of control. A claustrophobic atmosphere and the ultimate horror of loss of identity, loss perhaps of one's own body. [Sept 2004] ( )
2 vote startingover | Feb 1, 2011 |
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TO JOHN HAYWARD
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"Will you give me your word of honour", said Melanie, "that I am not going to die?"
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