23 thoughts on “The Child Cephalina – Rebecca Lloyd


    “I would wait until Tetty summoned me with the kitchen bell to appear. From time to time a child was so filthy or lousy that she would put the little mite into the tub for a wash while the others ate, and there apply vinegar to its tatty head.”

    A tetty (têtey?) tatty head.
    This is a most engaging and literarily, if not literally, comfortable start to a novel, as I guess this to be. Mr Groves is the narrator in this large house belonging to his brother in 1851, London, who takes in children as waifs and strays that need shelter, living there alongside Tetty, a kindly officious sloppy woman, I infer, lodger or servant, or co-tenant, although I may change my opinion when I correct myself later about her! This day, the eponymous eleven year old (Mr Groves himself infers she is 11) arrives with the others herded into the kitchen. Although she seems separate and not in need of shelter judging by her appearance. The description we are given of this child is tantalising…
    I do not intend to itemise the plot of this book as I go through it, but to try to adumbrate my reactions to it and to any points of oddity that I may find — such as the Tetty business above! — towards a gestalt that perhaps even the author herself has not yet foreseen.


    “He claimed that some of the alleyways between the rotten houses were so narrow that an adult could only move down them sideways,…”

    I sense that London here is full of places it should be full of, and perhaps it is. And, rafty boffle gifty, words to cherish, as we get to know Tetty and Robert more closely, via Robert’s words, and what he tell us about what Tetty thinks of Cephalina, and the gatherer youth called Martin, who joins the household, and perhaps this book is the very book writer Robert says, within it, he wants to write? Superstition or genuine truths, too, adumbrated, and whatnot. I am utterly captivated. Must eke it out, savour it. So must you.

  3. 0A045382-DD26-4EEB-950E-DA1781E7E85F CHAPTER THREE

    “You may as well know that I have been dreaming of visiting the Crystal Palace; from the pictures in the newspaper it is a very interesting and educational place. But I would not go there with my hat so dented and old and be the cause of disgrace to myself.”

    Not surprising Tetty dreams of Crystal Palace and her hat, as the year is 1851 when it was opened, and she may also see it as a bonnet for her tête-à-tête! And indeed the latter is what happens here between herself and Robert (through his narrative eyes, no doubt), debt not doubt, selling his brother’s books surreptitiously, taking in babies to make ends meet, or a loan from his brother? And talk between them, too, about Celaphina and thoughts of doors slamming upstairs autonomously when nobody is up there, jawled-out moilsome ingenurious tide-waitress, mermaids, siren songs as a gender issue, dust, dust, dust… Tetty’s mention of “that little cress-seller with a limp to that big greasy man who comes with the beer and the hands that grope.” And much more

  4. Chapters Four & Five

    “I had been writing it slowly since 1849 and had found the perfect title for it: Wretched London, The Story of the City’s Invisible Children. Now, I was advancing very well on it and feeling buoyant. Outside, the weather was atrocious with severe storms across the country and that, if nothing else, kept me to my desk.”

    …as it is today with Atiyah.
    I feel stained by ghosts. By names and phrases.

    “‘There we are you see is a silly phrase.’
    Tetty turned around to face me. ‘I reckon she is a rafty little thing, Robert.’”

    I can imagine a storm named after that ‘she’, Cephalina, that is, when C comes up in the alphabet. Things on the tide of conversation like unexpected flotsam or jetsam, leaving an unwelcome taste in my mouth, fimble-famble faddy soiled-greens, but thank goodness for a trip to Crystal Palace to clear the air. Glass against the gales. Tetty in her new hat. Some beautifully described darknesses and concupiscence of implication in these chapters. As well as translucent light.

    “Even Tetty, who stands a head higher than the average man, struggled sometimes to glimpse the most popular exhibits.”

  5. Chapters Six and Seven

    ‘You are the strangest child I have ever encountered.’

    Infuriating, too. I am in sixes and sevens about this fascinating book. I already said I was captivated by it; now I am in danger of being infatuated with it, but not infuriated. Both words are used in the text. This book — in our own world of increasing lies — has, as one of its subjects, too easy lying, perhaps not even knowing one is lying because it has become a habit. But isn’t fiction just that? Which sets up a load, I guess, of falling dominos of provocation. A world of connivance and quid pro quo, just to be taken to the glass palace. A world where the words temptation and sordidness crop up. Ghost work and dancing. And Martin’s surname is Ebast. But that may, so far, be completely irrelevant for me to tell you. I still try not to tell you too much. Indeed, I still try not to tell MYSELF too much.

  6. Chapter Eight

    ‘I am glad you are available, Ebast. I wonder if you could escort Cephalina to the New Road and walk a short way with her eastwards.’

    I like the way each chapter has a sort of cliffhanger to the next. I resisted chapter nine today, though, as I am almost dreading what might transpire next. No exaggeration. I did ‘enjoy’, meanwhile, Robert’s new feisty tête-à-tête with Tetty, also with his inner references to Deism, superstition, Hume, eschatological matters and Spring-Heeled Jack.
    I also relish, as you know, cross-references to my simultaneous reading as part of the synchronicity of gestalt. And I would draw re-attention not only to Robert’s book about Wretched London, but also to another book, THE EMPTY SOUL: FALSE PARENTS AND CHANGELING CHILDREN, mentioned a day or so ago HERE.

    ‘Even though I only saw them backwent, I could see she carries with her the shim of another girl.’

  7. Chapters Nine and Ten

    “and thus the environment in which my sweet little rivulet was living would be revealed—“

    And we later have a ‘stream of people’, after some plot business concerning kippers and puffy ankles, and implications regarding a possible seaside home at Margate. Celaphina (inferred as merely 11), that rivulet? Her ‘shade-body’, too. Cynicism versus séances, streams of ectoplasm or euphoria? I dare not divulge too much, other than such codes elicited about the plot stream, among many other possible codes towards this book’s intensely beautiful passages of accretive thraldom in the bachelor narrator’s soul. Only great works of fiction (and, so far, this work is surely one such) can obviate the need for gestalt real-time reviewing at all. A fragile ‘so far’, nevertheless. But, perhaps you can already feel by osmosis where this book is taking you. And that is not only to the glass palace and its exhibits.

  8. Chapters Eleven and Twelve

    ‘She says mad things like she’s going to block the front and back door keyholes up with iron nails so Cephalina can’t ooze through.’

    Tetty, that is. Not so mad, perhaps, bearing in mind the antipathy she holds for Cephalina.

    Lies told to oneself, lies told to others, even lies about what one reads. You see, which is the worst of two evils, lies or plot spoilers, I ask?

    My lies are not lies but mere economies with the truth. Not telling you about certain aspects, but what I do tell you is utterly true to my mind.

    And book-binding being his paid occupation is Robert’s lie today. My form of book-binding is what I call gestalt real-time reviewing.

    And I mentioned a stream of ectoplasm in my previous entry above BEFORE today encountering the word ‘ectoplasm’ for the first time in this book.

    And from Wretched London to Wretched Death….as today I meet a new strongly conveyed character: the thin-lipped Mrs Clutcher who tells Robert…
    ‘I have come to believe over time that men do not mourn well and have no natural leaning towards philosophy, and thus cannot so easily find new meaning in life in the same way that ladies can after a wretched death.’

  9. “Never can there come fog too thick…”
    — Charles Dickens (Bleak House, 1852)

    “Then, in their droves, out came the crossing sweepers who took up their allotted positions all over London.” from –
    Chapters Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen and Sixteen

    …like the ants that are Ebast’s learnt letters of the alphabet?

    ‘Ie, ie, ie, I see you, I feel you, I hear you!’

    I could not put these chapters down, for the sense of their suspense, “the uncertainty of what will come next.”
    And what of the silk handkerchief Ebast was using?

    “I don’t know if you’ve ever had the experience of thinking that you were two people . . . that is to say becoming aware that one voice within you was laying out a clear path of action and yet another voice, equally yourself, was fighting hard against its companion’s common sense.”

    The scene with the concocted garnet necklace is genuinely frightening. The pent-up guilt, and dare I repeat, an undercurrent of the erotic?
    Rat or Rabbit (not noticed these two words’ similarities before), which of them is more likely to have a soul? While reading this book, I feel I am, also, two people as Robert senses himself to be. A reader who reads it as it is overtly written while withholding things from it for the reasons given earlier, and another reader tempted to sneak things into it that may not have been there at all! Perhaps there are two books interchanging as I proceed sporadically with my ongoing project of reviewing one book called Cephalina and another called Euphoria? The first, formed by letters as a word, now sounds to me like the name of some Victorian disease. The child with cephalina. Or diphtheria.

  10. Chapters Seventeen, Eighteen and Nineteen

    “Well, Tetty has a very good headpiece as you know,”

    Well, when she is caught like that fish or salmon later caught at the ectoplasmic séance — Tetty caught lying, that is, to her own brothers back at her original home in Arundel about the nature of her household with Robert and young Ebast, and she expletes “butter my wig!”… justified lies, though, bearing in mind the nature of women’s status back in 1851.
    First, though, in these chapters, the fishmonger had ‘tutted’ upon Tetty’s seeming absence from Robert’s equivocal household, the word ‘fingered’ from ‘fishmonger’ not ‘soiled’ but later holding hands with a ‘cold-fingered’ lady at that aforementioned, truly frightening Clutcher séance….
    And there is a letter that Robert reads twice from Tetty’s brother that seems to change between readings, despite being frozen in words already writ down.
    Re-fingered… as I have personally found some printed books do overnight. The words reshuffling when I’m not looking.

    ‘It is a human habit to build pictures in our minds to fill in what we do not know,’

  11. Chapters Twenty and Twenty-One

    “It might be all right at first, but in the end people carrying secrets get a type of stain around them in the air,…”

    You know this feeling, no doubt. And I see I was right in earlier drawing attention to Ebast’s rabbit and rat. Becomes a sort of makeshift structure in a bed, as I once imagined Padgett Weggs’ structure over his bed in Agra Aska.
    And while on the subject of the strength of imagination, the preternatural strength of fiction itself…

    “They think our wonderful human brains have come about over millions and millions of years. And I believe that as the imagination which nestles within the brain has become such a very powerful tool as a consequence of that long stretch of time, it is our duty to use it to its utmost.”

    And in these chapters, there is the description of a certain smile that should, I feel, go down as the most worryingly remarkable smile in literature! Beyond the White Rabbit’s or Cheshire Cat’s! If the White Rabbit did have a smile at all?

  12. Victorian engraving of a rabbit and hare. Chapters Twenty-Two and Twenty-Three

    “…his detailed explanations of how a great number of spiritualist tricks are carried out.”

    I sometimes worry that my approach to literature may be equally loaded against what is intended by the author. As if I have my own inbuilt “circus children” performing ideas of interpretation, synchronicity, preternature and fiction truth.

    Whatever the case, the role-played ends and masquerading means of that which Robert sees as his crusading mission ineluctably heads towards literary denouement… (penned Robert Rabbit truth, too?)

    ‘A mortacious bad situation, and that’s the gleaming truth of it,’ Tetty murmured.

  13. Chapters Twenty-Four and Twenty-Five

    “I am going to refer to these odious people by their Christian names if you do not mind, as I have no more respect for them now in the telling of this tale, than I did at the peculiar meeting we were about to have with them then.”

    Some glimpses of beliefs in the spirit world and its activities, with equivocation between superstition and truth. The lying to oneself as if you are two people. The sense of denial about what one does. A revelation of truth leads to a further intriguing equivocation of Cephalina’s view about her twin sister or shade-body — or a childish imaginary friend who is deemed real by the one harbouring such a belief in it. An equivocation too with the moral welfare of children in this era of British history. All conveyed by the conversational interactivity of well-characterised characters, along with dread or mere doubt over what such interactivity will bring. As an aside, may I ask whether the long-seasoned literary-theory of the Intentional Fallacy can also summon into being an authorial overseer of any book such as this one as two people with an equivocated narrative? And, if so, which of them wins the battle of that book’s plot? What is the book’s true intention?

  14. Whatever the nature of its intention, I can no longer put this book down for eking-out or savouring purposes and it has by now crossed my own line of salt on the mind’s threshold.

    Chapters Twenty-Six and Twenty-Seven

    ‘And you even look through that split in the wood in the attic door?’
    The concept of ‘moral insanity’. And more yellow fogs; I don’t think they were ever yellow in Bleak House. Rationalism versus ‘the darkman hours’. And “…at the bottom of the box was an ivory backed brush and its comb” — for Tetty’s head of hair, too?

  15. Chapters Twenty-Eight and Twenty-Nine

    “—it was as if the sand at the edge of the sea is glimpsed in its serenity and simplicity for no more than the drawing in of a single breath, before the effect is obliterated by the chaos of the next savage incoming wave.”

    The end of this book is genuinely chilling (Robert, I guess, is like the rabbit in the modern day’s headlights), chilling as well as inspiring from many other points of view. Including my turning upside down one of Degas’ paintings in a previous review a couple of years go. A real leap of faith. And I did not expect the concept of a head, with which this Cephalina review started, to become as significant as it now turns out to be in a very different way.

    I remain captivated by The Child Cephalina, if not infatuated. However sordid or solid any accoutrement turned out to be. “…but talk thin if at all so they cannot hear us.”
    However corrupted my future bread turns out to be. Or however much unfinished business there also happens to be. It is the book title above, not the child herself.
    As my own irrelevancy of an aside, no woman surely gave birth to rabbits, a phenomenon from that short list of comparable strangenesses given to us by Robert as his own aside towards the end.


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