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Submitted Literature

Beyond the Glass

By Antonia White

Review

The third book in a trilogy, White’s novel appears to be written in the vein of late Modernism.  White herself spent time in the Bethlem Asylum – her recollection of her time in asylum is credited as giving her insights into madness that are represented with striking reality in her novel.  Main character Clara’s breakdown is realistically portrayed, from early signs to full-blown psychosis.  This novel serves as a useful reminder of the developments in psychiatry and attitudes towards madness over the past 60 years through the sense of hopelessness that is felt about Clara’s recovery.  Societal expectations of, and pressures upon, women have phenomenal impact in this novel, with implications of the repression of love and passion leading to mental breakdown.

Key Themes:

  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Revealing Reads
  • Societal Pressure

Significant Quotes / Pages

9 – “He had reason enough to be concerned about Clara.  She had been married only a few months and it was obvious that things were not going well.  Archie Hughes-Follett had begun to drink again and he suspected they were getting into debt.  What troubled him far more was the swift and violent change in Clara herself.  The last time he had seen her, there had been a defiance, even a coarseness in her looks and manner which had shocked him.  Any real of fancied defect in his fiercely loved only child had always caused him such pain that his first reaction was to be angry with her.  He had been so angry with her that day that, though several weeks had passed, he had felt none of the usual desire to placate her.”

229-30 – “Months, perhaps years, later, she woke up in a small bare cell.  The walls were whitewashed and dirty, and she was lying on a mattress on the floor, without sheets, with only rough, red-striped blankets over her.  She was wearing a linen gown, like an old-fashioned nightshirt, and she was bitterly cold.  In front of her was the blank yellow face of a heavy door without a handle of any kind.  Going over to the door, she tried frantically to push it open.  It was locked.  She began to call out in panic and to beat on the door till her hands were red and swollen.  She had forgotten her name.  she did not know whether she were very young or very old.  Had she died that night in Nell’s studio?  She could remember Nell and Richard, yet she knew that her memory of them was not quite right.  Was this place a prison?

[…]  She lost herself again; this time completely.  For months she was not even a human being; she was a horse.  Ridden almost to death, beaten till she fell, she lay at last on the straw in her stable and waited for death. They buried her as she lay on her side, with outstretched head and legs.  A child came and sowed turquoises round the outline of her body in the ground, and she rose up again as a horse of magic with a golden mane, and galloped across the sky.  Again she woke on the mattress in her cell.  She looked and saw that she had human hands and feet again, but she knew she was still a horse.”

 

 

249 – “Gradually she became aware of certain changes.  The most remarkable was that, whenever she was fully awake, she was almost always the same person.  This person was called Clara.  She was almost sure that, in the other life, her name had also been Clara.  She wished that she knew what she looked like but there was no looking-glass in her cell.  The stiff garment and the sailcloth had gone: she no longer dreaded the opening of the door since the torturers with the funnel never appeared now.”

 

Reference: Antonia, White. 1954. Beyond the Glass. London: Virago, 2006

Reviewer

- Charley Baker
Date Review Submitted: Monday 23rd March 2009