Persephone Book No. 6: The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski

A forum for Persephone readers where we write about a new book every month.

‘this hidden forgotten Regency row’ – a painting by David Gentleman of the house in Islington where the novel is set.

Melanie Langdon is a pampered young woman married to an up-and-coming young barrister called Guy. They live in a comfortable reclaimed Regency house in London in the early 1950s. Melanie has recently given birth to a son but is recovering from a bout of tuberculosis, carefully tended by Guy and her doctor, Dr Gregory. As she recovers, Dr Gregory allows her to move from her bedroom to lie on a chaise-longue in the neighbouring room. The chaise-longue is a Victorian piece, vast and ugly save for the Berlin cross-stitch embroidery on its cover. Melanie acquired it in an antiques shop just before her tuberculosis was diagnosed.


The Old Dealer by Charles Spencelayh

Falling asleep, Melanie awakes to find herself still lying on the chaise-longue but trapped in another time – 1864 – in the body of another tuberculosis sufferer, Milly Baines. Milly is tended by her sister, Adelaide, and a maid, Lizzie. Visitors drop by: the Clergyman, Mr Endworthy; the mysterious Gilbert Charters, also a member of the clergy; and Milly’s doctor, Philip Blundell.

It becomes apparent that there is secret hanging over Milly, that she has done something which is regarded by those around her as morally reprehensible. Meanwhile, Melanie tries to work out what has happened to her: maybe it’s a dream; or maybe she has been kidnapped; maybe Mr Entworthy’s prayers will help; maybe God or Fate are subjecting her to some sort of test; or maybe she just needs to convince Dr Blundell to take her somewhere where the air is better. As Melanie’s confusion grows, so does her fear. Is her mind inside Milly’s body or is Milly’s body also Melanie’s body? If Milly dies, what will happen to Melanie…?


Do you think the novel is indeed frightening? Or is it something else? Claustrophobic maybe? Mysterious or intriguing?

What role do antique or junk objects play in the novel? Do they simply set the Victorian scene, or do they take on a more dramatic symbolism in adding to the oppressive atmosphere of the room in which Melanie is trapped? What about the chaise-longue itself?

What do you think the message of the story is (if there is one)?


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