The Victorian Chaise-Lounge by Marghanita Laski chronicles a peculiar event in the life of Melanie. It is the 1950s and she is recovering from tuberculosis and has recently delivered her first child. She is thus confined to her bed with frequent visits by her husband, doctor, and Sister Smith. After a promising report from her doctor, Melanie is allowed to have a change of scenery. The old Victorian-chaise lounge with “wine-red felt…embroidered roses… carved wooden frame” that Melanie bought at an antique shop on a whim before her illness is the decided place of respite. Melanie goes to sleep on the chaise-lounge and wakes up in Victorian England. She does not recognize her surroundings and is horrified that everyone calls her Milly. Melanie cycles through phases of grief and slowly begins to realize that she is not dreaming and tries to sort things out. The only connection that Melanie can find between herself and Milly Baines is tuberculosis and the chaise-lounge on which she is trapped, both physically and mentally in Milly’s body. At the end however, their existences seem to blend.
There are a few ideas swirling around in this short novel particularly about the treatment and position of women during these two periods: women should be made to rest and refrain from excitement, that women are trapped or confined by convention, and possibly that women are prone to mental illness.
Laski does a wonderful job of taking us right into her character’s experience. I felt the same way with her character Hillary in Little Boy Lost who is trying to relocate his son a few years after World War II.