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The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita…

The Victorian Chaise-longue (1953)

by Marghanita Laski

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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] ( )
1 vote startingover | Feb 1, 2011 |
Of all the books in the Persephone catalogue this is the one I've been looking forward to reading the most. Maybe it was the word 'Victorian' that appealed to me (I'm slightly obsessed with the Victorian period) or maybe it's just that it has sounded so fascinating in every review I've read. I've seen this book described as a horror story - 'a little jewel of horror'. For me, though, it wasn't so much frightening as unsettling and creepy.

Melanie Langdon is a young mother recovering from tuberculosis in bed at her home in 1950s London. When the doctor tells her she can move to another room for a change of scenery, Melanie decides to lie on the chaise-longue in the drawing room, an ugly item of Victorian furniture she had purchased in an antique shop.

'Melanie lies on the chaise-longue and falls asleep - but when she awakens, something has changed. She's still lying on the same chaise-longue, she still has TB, but it's now the year 1864, she's being cared for her by her hostile sister Adelaide, and her name is no longer Melanie - it's Milly. Is Melanie dreaming? Remembering a previous life? Has she really travelled back in time and become somebody else?

I have to admit I'm not sure that I fully understood what was supposed to be happening in this book. After thinking about it though, maybe that was the point - the reader isn't supposed to understand because Melanie herself doesn't understand. The book conveys a sense of confusion, panic and disorientation and I could really feel Melanie's helplessness as she lay on the chaise-longue, trapped in Milly's body, desperately trying to work out who she was and how she could escape.

What makes Melanie's story so disturbing and nightmarish is that although she has apparently been transported back in time, she has kept all of her twentieth-century ideas and sensibilities. As Milly, she finds herself a victim of the repression of Victorian society and there's nothing she can do to change her situation.

At only 99 pages, this book can easily be read in an hour, but there's so much packed into those 99 pages that the story will stay in your mind for a lot longer than that. ( )
1 vote helen295 | Oct 13, 2010 |
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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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