Pencilling the world – Marianne Dreams by Catherine Storr

Catherine Storr‘s Marianne Dreams echoes the sickness and need to remake the world but tempers it with the cruelty of children. Storr comments on the change world where horse and cart no longer delivers the milk but an electric float does. The pastoral world has been morphed into the urban world and Marianne dreams of riding a horse.

Marianne falls ill on her birthday and has to take to her bed. She is given a governess to keep her education up to date and her mother offers to get a subscription to the local library to alleviate her boredom. After drawing a house using her mother’s kit, she dreams of a prairie and the same house. Placing herself in a tradition of sick children, she adds in a boy when she is told of her governess’ other charges and begins exploring the house. Striking up a conversation with him (including Mark, the boy, who is also ill), she begins to fill in the house with items and stairs so that Mark can begin to move having constructed a shared dream space where the two ill children can share an experience.

However they have a row and Marianne traps him through creating bars on the windows to wipe him out. Rather than just trapping him, this action results in Mark ending up in an iron lung due to his illness. Realising the effects of her actions, Marianne tries to reverse them but at makes Mark change his attitude to his illness and be positive. When they escape from the house, both children are followed by Stone creatures which mirror Mark’s own fears about life after illness.

Storr is perhaps unique in the period for discussing the cruelty present in children. Penelope Farmer approaches it but not to the same extent as Storr – though I wonder if this comes from her first marriage to the psychologist, Anthony Storr. She offers the reader the chance to take their own fate into their hands rather than feeling sorry for themselves. The dream world offers both children the chance make their own world and to adapt to it.

Marianne Dreams, Catherine Storr (Patrick Hardy Books, London, 1958)

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