The Victorian Chaise Longue

What did I say, she asked herself when the effort had been made, something about machines that fly, or was it aeronautic machines? Wireless, she screamed in her mind, television, penicillin, gramophone-records and vaccum-cleaners, but none of these words could be framed by her lips. I can think them, why can’t I say them? she begged; can I introduce nothing into this real past?–and if I cannot, then even these thoughts I am thinking, has Milly thought them before? But things can’t happen twice, she told herself wearily, closing her eyes, the momentary relaxation over, the racking torture established again, I must always have been Milly and Milly me. It is now that is present reality and the future is still to come. But if I have to wait for the future, if it is only in time to come that I shall be Melanie again, then that time must come again too when Sister Smith leaves me to sleep on the chaise-longue, and I wake up in the past. I shall never escape-and the eternal prison she imagined consumed her mind, and she fainted or dozed off into a nightmare of chase and pursuit and loss. 

What is frightening? Not the typical lore of Halloween: ghosts, goblins, ghouls.

To me, what is most frightening is real life gone awry. Just a little twist, a little tweak, a little shade off center. We experience this in those dreams from which we cannot run away fast enough. We cannot scream loudly enough for someone to hear us. We cannot wake up from a nightmare which appears to be reality.

In The Victorian Chaise Longue, Melanie Langdon, who is recovering not only from the birth of her baby but from a terrible disease which troubles her lungs, decides to rest on the Victorian chaise longue she bought in an antique store. It is upholstered in red wool and tapestry, a sturdy and comfortable piece of furniture which appears to be the perfect thing for her to lie upon.

Only, it isn’t.

When she wakes, it is not to any life she knows. It is to inhabit the body of Milly Baines, also suffering from consumption, in 1864. In a kind of virtual time travel, Melly experiences Milly’s life, which weaves in and out of similarity to her own. No one believes her when she tells them who she really is, nor when she tells the doctor how she could recover with fresh air and sunlight. She is trapped within her own life and another’s, the two of which are difficult to separate. Even if she could.

This was an immensely satisfying read of pure terror and suspense. It reminds me too closely of dreams and experiences I’ve suffered in which I’ve wondered, “What if this is my real life, and what I thought was real is not?” I read it for Carl’s RIP V, and I highly recommend it for you.

Find other reviews from Nymeth, Claire, Tracey, Novel Insights, and Isabella.

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15 thoughts on “The Victorian Chaise Longue”

  1. when I was young, I was waking for anestesia and that was my exact thought and i never forgot it and woke crying… I felt like everything I knew was my life was NOT and I was waking to my real life now… scared the bejeebers out of me!

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  2. Lovely review, Bellezza. I have read about this particular story before and it still sounds wonderful. (What is the word for things that magically absorb the past?)Your blog looks gorgeously autumnal! 🙂

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  3. Deslily, I've never had an experience quite like you described, but I have often had a sense that what I'm living is not what I know (does that make sense? what I mean is other-wordly, somehow). It is indeed terrifying. We're such small beings in such a big universe, yet we're all we know in our limited scope.Suko, I've read reviews on this particular piece, too, and it always picqued my interest. It's such a short read, only about 140 pages or so, so it's easy to accomplish in one go; it really magnifies the sense of being lost when you don't have interruptions.

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  4. I do sometimes wonder what it would truly be like to travel back in time and deal with that era's perceptions, expectations, treatments — I feel I'd find myself in one frustrating moment after another, quite different from the romanticized perspective of a bygone era! How refreshing for a book to deal with the subject in a frightening, and almost frustratingly claustrophobic perspective! Quite the limitations and boundaries at that time — I don't think I'd like time travel much…at least I don't think I would! I do like to read about it though — so I shall be putting this on my wish list! Fantastic review, as always.

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  5. Great review – not my thing (the terrifying aspects), but fascinating concept… mixing reads – I think Madame Bovary could've benefited from such a Chaise… Maybe it could've provided her with some relief from realty?

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  6. I think what terrified me about this (and it was a slow-burning terror that built during and post-reading) was that sense of powerlessness when people don't believe you/you think the world is against you.I am planning on announcing this year's Persephone Secret Santa early this week if you are interested in participating.

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  7. I'm so glad someone read & reviewed this! I've been tempted by it in the Persephone Books catalog, and now I definitely want to get it. Thanks for the great review!

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  8. Coffee and a Book Chick, the only other book dealing with time travel that I very much enjoyed was The Time Traveler's Wife. It took awhile to get into, for me, but once I abandoned the idea of following it all sequentially it was a terrific ride. This one is much, much shorter, with an element of eerieness which was not in the Time Traveler's Wife.Tamara, your concept of Emma Bovary lying on such a chaise makes me smile! She definitely needed something to embellish her world, and this would have given her quite a ride. Although, hopefully without the consequences she ended up suffering.Col, it's super short and super interesting, and I think you'd love it. A great pick for the RIP, too!Claire, you hit the nail on the head when you said the building sense of powerlessness where no one will believe you. Don't you hate those kind of dreams, where you can't escape or run or be believed?! I'm super excited about the Persephone Secret Santa to come. I'm definitely in, my friend!Kaizerin, first, it's nice to 'meet you'. Secondly, the Persephone Books catalogue is something one could pour over for hours, and never come away with a poor choice. I'm so excited to hear that Claire is announcing the Persephone Secret Santa fete.

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  9. I read about this recently and want to read it. I expect it'd be more horrific than I can think though, looking at it from a pre-reader point of view is difficult.

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  10. Charlie, it's worth the read especially if you're looking for something eerie and autumnal. I wonder how a man would feel about it, as the point of view is from a woman's perspective…

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