Her bed was like a barge and we were on the quay. Rosamund was constantly with her, and did all her needlework in the sick-room, and Constance often joined her, and so did Kate when her work was done, and the three would sit sewing. It was as if the needles in their hands were oars, and they were rowing Cordelia away to the land where people were not musical. But of course this was music too.
From near the end of ‘The Fountain Overflows’ by Rebecca West, the first part of a trilogy that follows a family from Edwardian Britain to the doorstep of Nazi Germany.
Here Rose watches in amazement as a family magic occurs to remove her sister Cordelia from a traumatic memory into the ‘normal’ life that she, unlike the rest of her family, desperately craves.
Given that West’s synopsis (which would have taken the family up to c.1945, but was never fully written out) intended that Cordelia would be the sole main character to remain in denial about the First and Second world wars and their impact on her family I don’t think it’s coincidental that Cordelia’s voyage to normality has echoes of the Lady of Shalott.
Painting by John William Waterhouse.