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Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski

Victorian Chaise-Longue (original 1953; edition 1999)

by Marghanita Laski

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3132335,548 (3.56)61
Title:Victorian Chaise-Longue
Authors:Marghanita Laski
Info:Persephone Books (1999), Paperback, 99 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:VO Anglais, Tuberculose, Époque victorienne, Mort, Voyage dans le temps, Angleterre, Littérature anglaise, Réincarnation, Passé

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The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski (1953)


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The Victorian Chaise-Longue is generally described as a horror story. The horror lies in the way the story plays upon the reader’s fears of entrapment and loss of control and confusion of identity. That nightmare thing of trying to get people to believe the unbelievable, of having no way out of a situation with only one possible horrifying conclusion.

This is a novel about which it is difficult to write without potential spoilers, and so while I am intending to keep this short – I can’t promise the following won’t be a tad spoilery.

It is worth keeping in mind that I am just about the last person to ever read a horror story, and yet I really enjoyed it (though it is rather shuddery). The Victorian Chaise-Longue isn’t really a horror story by modern standards. It is instead, a quietly disturbing novel, cleverly psychological, it also has something to say about women’s lives and their positions in society during the two periods in which it is set. In the hands of a modern writer, I suspect everything would have gone a little OTT and been drawn out for 400 pages, Marghanita Laski is wonderfully subtle, and restrains herself to not revealing everything. The Victorian Chaise-Longue is far more powerful, in my opinion, for such handling.

Melanie Langdon is a young 1950s wife recovering from TB. She constantly seeks reassurance of her doctor that she won’t die, pretty and a little spoiled, she is constantly indulged by those around her. She was pregnant when the TB was discovered, and despite concerns, her doctors had allowed the pregnancy to continue. Her son Richard was born seven months earlier – since when Melanie has barely seen him. Her days are spent in bed, where she looks forward to her husband Guy’s visits, the nanny coming to hold Richard up at the door for her to see, and the continuing good reports from her doctors. Melanie has everything she could wish – apart from her health, which appears to be slowly returning, her life is one of privilege.

With her condition improving, her doctors agree she can leave her bedroom in the afternoons, to lie in the sun in the drawing room. The drawing room is where the Victorian Chaise-Longue has been put. A large, old fashioned piece of furniture, rather ugly with a scrolled back and cross-stitch embroidery cover.

“Through the open window the spring poured in. From her couch, bathed in the soft sweet air, Melanie could not see the canal that lay beside her home, but it flowed through her imagination, dark and still and beautiful. From the water on the far side, a rough bank rose steeply to a bombed, still desolate waste, and from one of the brambles that sprawled all over it, a branch curved high and free to lie across the blue sky. Suffused with sunlight faintly swaying across the pale blue sky. Drowsy, Melanie looked at the flowers and the sky, and the noises of the city – the soft continuous roar of traffic, the whine of the milkman’s electric cart that stopped and started in the street behind – died away with her slow beatific loss of immediacy.”

Melanie had bought the chaise-longue in an antique shop the day before she received her TB diagnosis. On that day, Melanie had been aware of a fleeting memory which swept over her as she first came into contact with the chaise-longue. At first, the reader takes this memory at face value, though it seems vaguely out of place – which in time we realise it was.

On the afternoon, that Melanie is carried by her husband to lie on the Victorian chaise-Longue in the afternoon sun, she falls asleep, and when she wakes up, nothing is what it was.

“She opened her eyes and it was dark. I am still asleep, she thought, and she shut her eyes again; but soon she realised that it was not now the delightful chaos of sleep still imposed on her brain. Now, this time, I am really awake, she said, and again it was dark, darkness charged with a faint foul smell.”

Melanie has woken up in the body of another woman, a woman who lived in the Victorian era – the 1860s – and like Melanie is lying on the chaise-longue, a victim of TB. Melanie finds herself in the body of Milly Bains, with the thoughts and longings of Melanie. The room is unfamiliar, yet known, the people around her unknown and yet gradually familiar. There are things which have happened to Milly in the past which neither we nor Milly can be sure of, some disgrace she has brought to the family, a reason why her sister is so coldly disapproving. It is like we have stepped into the middle of a story having entirely missed the opening chapters. Like Melanie, the reader isn’t always sure what is going on, this is particularly clever as it heightens the sense of claustrophobic uncertainty. Melanie – tries to believe she is in a nightmare – for as long as she can, before the true horror of her situation becomes apparent.

I was surprised actually, at how much I enjoyed this novella, and while it won’t be my favourite Marghanita Laski novel, it has renewed my appreciation for a gifted novelist who wrote several very different novels. ( )
1 vote Heaven-Ali | Jan 1, 2017 |
The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski; Persephone;
(4 1/2*)

I found The Victorian Chaise-Longue to be a horribly disturbing & even terrifying novella.
Our protagonist is ill with TB. She has just given birth & is bed ridden. After several weeks she is allowed by her physician to be carried into an adjoining room and to lay upon the chaise lounge where she will get sun and be able to watch the birds and have a bit of a change in scenery.
She falls asleep and when she awakens it is to find that she is in a strange room with a strange woman in another time and place. The one commonality is the chaise lounge. Eventually she comes to realize that this woman is her sister.
I expected that the plot would move from fairly contemporary days to Victorian days in a back & forth flow but this book is not written in such a manner. You will need to be of stouter heart than this reader to read this book and not find your heart beating faster as you turn the pages.
A very well written book, I highly recommend it. I am so glad that I have now read it for I will not be so frightened when I turn to it for a reread. ( )
2 vote rainpebble | Dec 20, 2014 |
Marghanita Laski is an author not much talked about, but who has an enormous talent for writing a gripping novel. Her books vary in their subject, but all keep you turning pages. If you are looking for an emotional thriller, you will find Little Boy Lost will do a fine job of suspense while pulling at your heart. But if psychological thriller is more your bag, try The Victorian Chaise-Longue. And yes America, it is longue and not lounge. It is similar to that Charlotte Perkins Gilman classic The Yellow Wallpaper. A well-kept wife decides to take a nap on the newly obtained antique only to find herself waking in a very different world. At first she tries to believe she is dreaming, but then the terror grows when she realizes she is awake and not in her own body. Will she wake from this nightmare? How will she cope? How will it end? ( )
  ms.hjelliot | Nov 18, 2014 |
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 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Marghanita Laskiprimary authorall editionscalculated
James, P.D.Prefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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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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And in the instant before she had perceived what she was touching, she was flooded with that same memory that had first sirred in her when she saw the chaise-longue in the shop off Marylebone High Street, only now it was deeper, truer and intolerably painful, a memory of passionate love, of a body that crushed and broke into hers, pressed down on the Victorian chaise-longue.
So that's it, she said, not understanding the memory, only recognising that this thing, this couch on which she lay, was the only object that joined that life and this. There was a pattern: it was not all haphazard. If I could get off it then, she thought, and she dug her elbows into the horsehair-filled seat and lifted the swimming dizzy head.
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