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The Victorian chaise longue Unknown Binding – 1954

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Product details

  • Unknown Binding: 119 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (1954)
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0007EHP02
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Lynette Baines VINE VOICE on 20 Feb. 2001
Format: Paperback
Most readers of classic Victorian fiction have surely wished that they could be transported back to the slower pace and more refined lifestyle of the nineteenth century. After reading this novel, you will never wish that again. First published in 1953, this is the story of Melanie, a rather spoilt young woman recovering from TB (still a threat only fifty years ago). Melanie goes to sleep one afternoon on a Victorian chaise-longue she picked up in an antique shop, and wakes up as Milly, a young woman in the nineteenth century. The horror comes from the fact that Melanie is still Melanie, with all her twentieth-century knowledge, yet she is trapped in another woman's body, a woman who has transgressed in some unspecified way. The sights and smells of the period are vivid- the butter which has gone slightly rancid, the smell of clothes which are never thoroughly washed. When Melanie can no longer delude herself that she is dreaming, the terror of her situation becomes overwhelming. This slight novel is written in a spare, matter-of-fact style which only makes the story more believable. The Victorian atmosphere- overcrowded, stuffy, suffocating- is beautifully evoked. Another wonderful reprint from Persephone.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By J. A. Peacock on 12 May 2009
Format: Paperback
I had never heard of either this title or the author when this disturbing novella arrived through my letterbox as a surprise gift from a friend. That was my loss, as I think it is one of the most chilling and evocative `ghost' stories I have read.

The plot is quite simple - the protagonist, Melanie, a rather shallow convalescent, is transported via an old chaise longue back to Victorian times and into the body of a young woman named Milly. The mastery, however, lies in Laski's skill at evoking Melanie's sense of dislocation, which she does through a myriad of sensory details and emotional reactions. This contrast - between her cosseted life in `the present' and the disgrace and threatening contempt that hangs over her in her Victorian life - is well executed.

Her confusion is shared by the reader - at first, you wonder like her whether the situation she experiences is a by-product of her recent illness, a feverish dream, but you also end up sharing her increasingly claustrophobic sense of horror as both you and Melanie realise that she is trapped in what for her (as for any of us) is a nightmarish world, separated from those she knows and loves.

I am surprised that this novella isn't better known; like Charlotte Perkin Gilman's `The Yellow Wallpaper', it is an excellent example of the `Female Gothic' genre and would provide a deep source of investigation for students of literature.

But that is merely an aside, for the work is a beautifully written work of `supernatural fiction'; I use the latter term in inverted commas, because although the text defies easy categorisation and despite the `time travel' element, it does seem written within that tradition.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Boof VINE VOICE on 4 April 2010
Format: Paperback
I tracked this book down a few weeks ago after reading a review recently and being curious due to several points: 1) it is partly set in Victorian times 2) someone mentioned a feeling of similarity to Rosemary's Baby which is a book I read about 20 years ago and loved!

So, on to the book. Short at 124 pages this only took me a few hours to read. The story starts with Melanie who has been bed-bound for over a year due to having T.B. She gave birth to her son months before but hasn't been able to see him because of her illness and she is bored and longing to live a normal life again. Melanie has clearly been spoilt and doted on and this is really apparant in the way those around her deal with her. The books beginning is with the Doctor finally allowing her to have a change of secenry and lie on the huge Victorian chaise-longue in the drawing room. Melanie recounts how she found the seat in a antique shop and was immediately drawn to it although she was unable to expalin why. One happily settled in her new surroundings and lying on the chaise-longue she settles down for a sleep......

Melanie wakes up to unfamiliar smells and surroundings (save for the chaise-longue) and finds herself being looked after by a lady in long skirts and who insists on calling her Milly. We watch Melanie struggle as it dawns on her that she is not dreaming and is, in fact, alive and (not so) well in the year 1864. Again, bed ridden with T.B. she can do nothing other than to try and persuade the small cast of characters that she isn't Milly and doesn't belong there. Laski uses the supporting cast to hint at trouble, secrets and shame in Milly's life and we watch her try to piece together what has happened to her.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Suzie on 19 Mar. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
At just 99 pages, this is a little gem that leaves you with so much to think about. Melanie, spoilt and indulged, is not a character you particularly warm to but you'll soon be drawn into her nightmare, willing her somehow to escape it. On the morning of an appointment in the early 1950s with the Harley Street specialist who diagnoses TB, she arrived early so wandered into an antique shop. In the basement, she was drawn to an ugly Victorian chaise-longue and experiences only "her body's need to lie on the Victorian chaise-longue, that, and an overwhelming assurance, or was it a memory, of another body that painfully crushed hers into the berlin-wool."

Months pass before the doctor pronounces her sufficiently recovered to agree a change of scene, whereupon she is carried to the chaise-longue. There she falls asleep. When she wakes up the sunshine and the spring flowers whose appearance she so relished have been displaced by "darkness charged with a faint foul smell." Her body has become that of Milly, suffering from consumption, as TB was then known, almost a century earlier, but her mind is still that of Melanie. Or is it? She longs for her husband Guy to rescue her from this nightmare, just as she seems to recognise Adelaide, the woman who is looking after her, and to know that the portrait of Uncle George on the mantelshelf is in the wrong place.

But Milly, who has a dark secret that is only slowly revealed by hints and innuendo, is dying whereas Melanie was recovering. She must find some strategy to regain her former identity before it is too late. It's creepy, fascinating, horrifying, original, and so real. The details of Victorian times lend such an air of authenticity that the story becomes utterly believable.
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