The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski

Ballantine441

The Victorian chaise-longue had been stacked upside-down on top of a pile of furniture, its clumsy legs threshing the air like an unclipped sheep that had tumbled on to its back, its rich wine-red wool-embroidered underside spread like a canopy over the marble-topped washstand on top of the round mahogany table. ‘That looks rather exciting,’ Melanie had said, adding cautiously, ‘Goodness knows what one would do with it.’

To be honest, I didn’t expect to like this book. Some of my favorite book bloggers had deemed it meh, not scary, and confusing. When I started reading The Victorian Chaise-Longue I was expecting to read a story about an invalid woman with a weird connection to a piece of Victorian furniture and all of it was supposed to be scary but wasn’t. Instead I found a very sharp, horrifying story concerning women’s bodies, motherhood, mental health, and sexuality and identity.  This is the perfect companion piece to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.” In fact, if I were a professor of Women’s Studies this would be on my syllabi for every intro class.

The story begins with a visit from Melanie’s doctor. Melanie has tuberculosis and has also recently had a baby. She hasn’t been able to hold, comfort, or care for her baby because of the TB. She is in her bedroom wrapped in pink fluffy blankets. From the beginning the reader can see that Melanie is vapid, vain, and utterly stupid. She giggles, smiles, and flirts with her husband and she pretends that she cannot comprehend the gravity of her illness. Her doctor and her husband, Guy,  patronize her and offer little treats and try their very best not to get Melanie excited. Melanie appears to be a completely spoiled child. At one point her doctor discerns that she is clever, but then he quickly changes that assessment to cunning.

Melanie is finally told she can leave the room and lie on the Victorian chaise-longue. The chaise was purchased on her “last day of freedom” before she discovered she had TB. She has yet to even sit on it, but she is drawn to the ugly, heavy piece of furniture. Once settled on the chaise-longue — complete with pink fluffy blankets — Melanie falls asleep. When she wakes up she is on the chaise, but she is in Victorian dress and a severe looking woman calls her Milly. Although her brain is still “Melanie” she has awoken as Milly.

Milly’s story is pieced together gradually. Although Melanie appeared insipid in the beginning of the novella, the reader learns that she is sharp, perceptive, and able to adapt. I don’t want to spoil the end of the story, but suffice it to say this slim novella expertly delivers a terrifying ending on many levels; I was terrified by the end of Melanie/Milly’s tale and I was saddened by the claustrophobic horror she experienced based on her gender.

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This book was read for the RIP VIII Challenge

Previous RIP Books:

1. The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins

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