Couching at the Door by D K Broster

“…Art has nothing whatever to do with what is called ‘morality’; happily we know that at last!”

This is an intensely creepy work, evolving from a piece of fluff or “nothing now but a drenched smear swirling round the nymphs of Thetis!” to, I infer, a feather boa worn by the two ladies in Prague and Paris whom the writer (Augustine Marchant now at the more innocently countrified Abbot’s Medding) once met now being reconfigured in his so-called poetic work that his neighbours know little about, and then to a gigantic cobra, all three visions of such frightful realities threaded through with various images of the Garden of Eden, and, from a different point of view, we gain a glimpse of the same story as seen by the young callow illustrator who is to do the book’s artwork for Augustine’s writing and who is somehow palmed off by Augustine with this frightful furry familiar! Leaving Augustine free of it?
A work of hiding one’s art, guilt at one’s art, even absolving oneself of whatever dark creativity one does… and even writing such stuff myself and now reading, then openly reviewing this story being equivalent to my own guilty secret, but now no longer a secret as it is thus palmed off on you?!
There are some wondrous passages describing the horrific ‘familiar’, but by calling them ‘wondrous’, what is it do we do? The warmth of our snuggling up to the familiar in bed just being one thing here deployed.
I discern, to help his own self-exorcism, the older man’s grooming of the illustrator was effectively set in motion by an elbow trigger: “In the shaded rosy candle-light, his elbows on the table among trails of flowers he, who was not even a neophyte, listened like a man learning for the first time of some spell of spring which will make him more than mortal.” And each reader of this work will wrestle with their own vision of how this prose is couched. And maybe there will rear false aunt sallies to hide the actual nature of the serpent embedded in its tale? “For his own art was of infinitely more importance than the subservient, the parasitic art of an illustrator.”

***

Context of above review: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2023/01/02/womens-weird-strange-stories-1890-1940/

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