Saturday, 2 October 2010
Through the round window...
I loved the view from my room on the top floor of the Balmoral -- looking out of the attic window at the Castle beyond. It reminds me of Play School, the television show from my childhood, where the highlight was going through the round window or the square window or -- on special occasions -- the arched window. In my hazy memory of the past (that world where dream and memory blurs into one), the round window was also somehow akin to Alice going Through the Looking Glass... and as it happens, in the opening chapter of Lewis Carroll's story, Alice is gazing out of a window. 'I was watching the boys getting in sticks for the bonfire... Only it got so cold, and it snowed so, they had to leave off.' She is talking to her kitten at the time -- who has been playing with a ball of wool -- and re-reading this episode now, I was struck by the tinge of menace in the room. 'Alice wound two or three turns of the worsted round the kitten's neck, just to see how it would look.... "Do you know, I was so angry, Kitty," Alice went on... 'when I saw all the mischief you had been doing, I was very nearly opening the window, and putting you out into the snow! ... You know I'm saving up all your punishments for Wednesday week -- Suppose they saved up all my punishments?" she went on, talking more to herself than the kitten. "What would they do at the end of a year? I should be sent to prison, I suppose, when the day came."'
Then, to punish the kitten for not folding its arms properly, 'she held it up to the Looking-glass... "-- and if you're not good directly," she added, "I'll put you through into Looking-glass House."'
But it is Alice who sees the glass go soft as gauze: '"Why, it's turning into a sort of mist now, I declare! It'll be easy enough to get through --" She was up on the chimney-piece while she said this, though she hardly knew how she had got there. And certainly the glass was beginning to melt away, just like a bright silvery mist.'
I know, I know, I'm still obsessed with Coco Chanel -- how could I not be? -- but as I sit here, musing over the looking glass house, I can't help but remembering the mirrored walls of 31 Rue Cambon, and the sense I had while writing at Mademoiselle's desk of how her reflection might be visible just behind me; the back of my neck prickling, wondering whether the glass above the fireplace might soften, just as ice melts...
PS. One of the disturbing things about having a book out is that you feel yourself exposed, as if seen in a distorted hall of mirrors -- and there is shame, too, in feeling that you are looking at yourself, as well as being examined by others. But having just read today's review in the Telegraph , I'm so glad to realize that other writers and readers are discovering the myriad reflections in Chanel's looking glass world -- and that she has a continuing life of her own.