THE COTILLON by L.P. Hartley

“thoughts broke free from their bondage to the turning wheel”

…indeed also to a gramophone.
Pretty, sought-after Marion Lane’s thoughts are earlier said to be articulated like a record on a gramophone, that happen to presage the climax of the Christmastime cotillon — a cotillon in a large house with elements of the ‘masked’ hide-and-seek in ‘The Travelling Grave” and with a certain loophole of entry (here an opened window, one of five in a row, causing the snowy cold outside to battle with the roaring log fires inside), yes, entry by the damned dead reminiscent of ‘Feet Foremost’ — presaging the complex cotillon’s aftermath as a record being played, followed by an ending ‘shriek’ perhaps as the needle flies off?… “The room rustled with their whispering, with the soft hissing sound of ‘Chichester’ and the succeeding ‘Hush!’ which was meant to stifle but only multiplied and prolonged it. [……]” — and, incredibly, an explicitly mentioned ‘cartridge’ as bullet or needle holder upon a wooden head that perhaps represented the body of the gramophone that played the record: ‘Would you like to see? Would you like to look right into my mind?’
Also somehow presaging, in many preternatural ways, our own recent grappling with the wearing of masks socially (“these confounded masks”), not just on the upper face as someone says here in domino or masked balls, but men whose smiling (or not) could not be discerned. “Knowing how fallible are human plans, she had left in the cloakroom a small supply of masks for those men who, she knew, would forget to bring them. She thought her arrangements were proof against mischance,…”

This is the chilling story of Marion and the love-crossed suicide called Harry or Hal (cf Shakespeare?) that she caused by her behaviour, a man now supernaturally seeking revenge (“I never much valued Truth for its own sake, and I am grateful to Chance for affording me that peep behind the scenes last night. I am more grateful to you for keeping up the disguise as long as you did”) as part of that cotillon that seems to be still dancing in my head as I write this about it. And other moments that haunt me: “masked males, leaping like salmon,…”, “…while the man at the back, never shifting his position, drooped over her like an earring”, ‘anonymous fingers’ grasping the top of a sheet, a sheet like an opaque badminton net…
…and ‘The dead travel fast.’ — if not we alive ones who are still counting the minutes to Midnight….

***

The full context of this review: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/08/04/the-travelling-grave-and-other-stories-by-l-p-hartley/

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