Monday, January 11, 2021

The Victorian Chaise Longue

London: Persephone, 1999, c1953
99 p.

This short book is a tiny slice of horror! Not what I was expecting but a story you just can't look away from. Melanie is the pampered wife of a city lawyer; she's just given birth but can't see her baby because her pregnancy has awakened her dormant TB. She is slowly recovering, and when the story opens, she's being told by her pompous husband and patronizing doctor that perhaps today she can move from her bed to the Victorian chaise-longue in the other room, to give her a change of view. 

It certainly does that. When Melanie drowses off on the rather hideously floral chaise-longue (bought on a sudden, strong whim in an antique shop months before) she awakens as Millie in a Victorian home with a strange woman there with her, and another patronizing doctor, a case of TB, and a terrible secret.

Her increasing desperation to go to sleep again and wake up in her regular life is terrifying in itself -- there is an ultimate lack of power she suffers from, unable to make choices or decisions that are listened to or acknowledged, in either her actual timeline or this alternate one. The men responsible for her situations don't own up to anything, only being uselessly sentimental in private. 

The parallels between her situation in the contemporary world of the 50s, and the way her life is controlled by male decisions, and the Victorian world's context of male dominance and the way it's upheld by other women and social mores are clear. In neither world does Melanie prosper. 

This is short, to the point, and terrible. I haven't decided yet how to take the ending; it could be interpreted in a couple of ways but considering the momentum of the previous pages I can only shudder and believe the worst. If you are interested in the ways that social constructs hinder the full lives of women and try to police and control their every choice, this is a great fit for that theme. It's also really sharply constructed, emotional and intellectual at the same time. Really interesting read, as expected from Persephone Press. 


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