I just started reading ‘The Victorian Chaise-Longue’ by Marghanita Laski… it has been a long time coming.
I first encountered this little book, when the title caught my eye, while looking through a Persephone Books catalog about three years ago. I had seen ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’ at the Palace Theater, which I absolutely loved… such a delightful story and with Frances McDormand and Amy Adams, what’s not to love. I liked it so much, I went back the next night, and while walking to my car, I saw the book in the window of Griffin Bay Books. When I went back to buy the next day, it had been sold… apparently someone else liked the movie as much as I. GBB ordered the book and I was soon enjoying Winifred Watson’s delightful story.
Persephone Books of London, reprints neglected classics by 20th century (mostly women) writers, like Watson’s 1930 story. I ordered their catalog and that’s where I saw ‘The Victorian Chaise-Longue’. They currently have 95 books listed, and they are beautifully made. The end papers feature a fabric print from the period the story takes place (‘the shiny cream curtains printed with huge pink roses’ p. 3). And a bookmark germane to the story (‘berlin-wool cross-stitch embroidery that sprawled in bright gigantic roses over the shabby felt’ p.13). Book #6 is described as a very scary story. It looked interesting. I tried the library… I tried the Inter-Library-Loan… I tried Amazon.com. Nowhere could I obtain the book. It was not available. So, over the last few years, when I would go to Amazon it would pop up sometimes (but never in stock… oh, there were some used copies somewhere for 35 or 40 bucks), as something I was interested in, you know, those helpful reminders. I get a new Persephone catalog twice a year, and this time I couldn’t take it any more and ordered it… it was only ₤12 plus 6 shipping, for a total of ₤18... I had no clue what that would be in $, but didn’t care and hit PayPal… it was $27.00.
‘The Victorian Chaise-Longue’, starts in 1953, and is the story of a young woman of means, who is suffering from tuberculosis and confined to bed. She is finally well enough to be allowed to move into the parlor and lay upon a chaise-longue she had purchased in an antique store right before she became stricken. She falls asleep, and when she awakes, she finds herself in a dingy gas-lit room in 1864, on the same chaise-longue… although newer looking… being cared for by a brusque sister she does not know. She thinks herself in a dream and keeps trying to wake up. When she finally realizes she is awake, the terror sets in. I’m now on page 50 of 99… my head is drooping, I’m tired, time for bed.
Now, I’m in a dream. I have never had one like this… not my usual ‘Waiter’s Dream’ where I keep forgetting to wait on my tables, and then can’t find them… or the ‘Actor’s Dream’ where I forget to go onstage. No, this one is too real. It is hard to keep going and I force myself to wake up. I realized, that near the end of the dream I had started to analyze it as if writing a blog. Great, now I’m writing in my sleep… even organizing photos.
This dream starts out as a secret report on an Eastern European war-torn country, there is a triangular flag on the cover, I think red, green and yellow. Soon it shifts to Africa… the unnamed country ends in ‘ia’… and I am thinking Ethiopia. There is a rebel encampment, and in this dream a group of aid workers are lined up before the leaders. I am not there, but looking at this through newspaper or magazine photos. One photo shows them sitting in a row and the next is the same photo, but now they have a dot on their foreheads. They have been shot, and I am wondering if they will fall backward or forwards. What will the next photo be. It was terrifying. I wake up. It was 2:30 a.m., and it took a long time to go back to sleep. As I lay there thinking about this strange dream, I realized it had happened to my family. My daughter’s husband’s sister was killed in Somalia, when a bullet struck her as she was riding in a convoy to deliver aid to a remote village. Valerie was a 23-year-old nurse, from Dublin, working for an Irish aid agency called Concern. A photo of her laughing, surrounded by Somali women and children hangs in Ashley and Declan’s front room. Her senseless death in 1993 was of major importance to Ireland, with the President attending her funeral. It had put a face to the tragedy of what was occurring in Somalia.
I always wonder what influences dreams. Sometimes it is obvious. I don’t really have nightmares… more annoyances really, like the waiter’s dream, although those can be a bitch. Did the story taking place on the chaise-longue start this terrifying dream? I don’t know. I had not thought of Valerie in a long time, although I know Declan does. And I’m sure she was terribly missed at the Christmas Table when they were in Dublin this year.
So, I’ll finish the story of the young woman on the Chaise-Longue today, only 49 pages to go and hope I am dream free tonight.
Here is where you can find a wonderful catalog… PERSEPHONE BOOKS
The photographs of Valerie were taken by John Trotter, a writer for the Sacramento Bee, while on his second trip to Africa in 1992. They were taken in Mogadishu during the first food distribution. This was important, because the people were now able to prepare their own food, and not have to rely on feeding centers to cook it for them. Valerie was in charge of the operation. There were thousands of people there for food that day. The photo with the boy, he liked, because her love showed thru her hands, and that had meaning. The children at the center said those hands came from Ireland to help them, and they loved her and trusted her. She was killed the following year on the way to help people.
Dec. 27, 2013
I always liked this post and thought I would share it with MOONSHINE at yeah write weekly writing… I wrote this almost two years ago. Persephone Books now lists 104 titles in their catalog. I finished the story. It was heart-wrenching, terrifying and very disturbing. I was not disappointed I had finally read it.