The Inner Room by Robert Aickman


THE INNER ROOM by Robert Aickman

“Kleine Lene, wir strecken schön in der Tinte”

“Little Lene, we’re stretching the ink nicely”, as the German mother says to her daughter during the English father’s now famous car breakdown at the start of this most frightening classic strange story in the 1920s, prefiguring the war with Germany that Lene later lives through. Or we stretch beautifully in the ink, depending on the vagaries of translation? As Lene does ironically at the end when her truly classic premonition of the nature of a covivid dream — that many of us now experience, if without her thunderstorm — pans out amid the equivalent vagaries of the quagmire or marsh around the equally famous ‘dollshouse’, a house then becoming real with Lene herself having by then grown up into older age. The original dollshouse as ‘toy’ was bought for her after the car breakdown when accompanied by both her parents and her young brother and the latter’s ‘pudgy’ book as big as his head, none of which or whom I need describe here. Why were they helped by the man in the other car — because of the beauty of small Lene’s flaxen hair or because of her mother’s more sophisticated honey hair? (I feel sorry, incidentally, that her brother does not get his ‘toy’, the one of ornamental telegraph-wires.) The ink stretching may obliquely be the reason Aickman decided to include this story in an anthology that he himself was editing — possibly because Lene is a reliable narrator divorced from him as the story’s creator, instead of her being its unreliable narrator that we have long assumed her to be, especially in view of some of her cannibalistic hints surrounding the dollshouse’s inner room and trophy room. As Margaret was told to eat her mört in another story (Into the Wood), Lene’s brother is here told to eat his herring. Not only that, but Lene, when still a child, was made to read Moby Dick.

“…but now I began to perceive how relative and instrumental truth could be.
I need not say: not in those terms. Such clear concepts, with all they offer of gain and loss, come later, if they come at all. In fact, I need not say that the whole of what goes before is so heavily filtered through later experience as to be of little evidential value. But I am scarcely putting forward evidence. There is so little.”

The full context of this review here: where there are a few further thoughts about this story.

3 thoughts on “The Inner Room by Robert Aickman

  1. As I was saying on Instagram, I think Lene’s German mother was actually saying “Little Lene, we’re stuck in the soup.” I can’t find the translation page which gave that example, but there’s a similar one here: I tried changing ‘ganz’ to ‘stecken’, on reverso but got similar results. However, I do think your attention to the passage about the ink (which I noticed but didn’t study closely enough) brings up the interesting possibility that Aikman was punning on the word ‘Tinte’… which definitely adds a nuance (?) to the story.

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