Toward Golden Walls and Golden Frames


RAVISSANTE by Robert Aickman

“One trouble was that I most certainly did not want to understand everything.”

“If one goes to parties or meets many new people in any other way, one has to take protective action…”

RAvissante— upon my re-reading of it, just now — has jumped back, like the “black poodle” of the less-than-ravishing Madame A., into an erstwhile twin-souled sump as the formative religious experience it once was, now further evolved. A story imparted by the less-than-ravishing Aickman himself whereby his drag often drags? The story that will either change your life or make you abandon it altogether! It reminds me of my own thoughts about creating stories or arguably outlandish reviews of them like this one, if one equates them with RA’s ‘pictures’ in this story, viz:

“My pictures are visionary and symbolical, and, from first to last, have seemed to be painted by someone other than myself. […] I am thus entirely self-taught, or taught by that other within me. I am aware that my pictures lack serious technique(if there is a technique that can be distinguished from inspiration and invention). I should have given up painting them some time ago, were it not that a certain number of people seemed to find something remarkable in them, and have thus identified me with them, and made me feel mildly important.”

But then I address RA’s later explicit destruction in this story of my beliefs in ‘The Intentional Fallacy’ with regard to his narrator’s inner narrator’s view of paintings and painters, with this narrator uselessly seeking to know everything about each painter as a personality and a biography. So, I now flounder in finding a meaning in this work by RA without knowing more about RA himself. But I want to deal with it empirically or objectively without recourse to such biographical information. Therefore, let’s now go through the story during a new tranche of real-time…


The first narrator — having met the second narrator (whose narration of his earlier meeting with Madame A. in Belgium comprises the full final  two-thirds of the story’s whole) — is made executor (alongside the second narrator’s mostly silent wife) of the second narrator’s Will. The latter’s paintings and manuscripts, mainly.

Is the remarkable painting — seen in Madame A’s house, where there is a lot of ‘golden’ things mentioned (golden being tantamount to orange) and which the second narrator believes he painted (although not remembering his painting of it!) — the same as the actual painting that the first narrator wanted to keep as sole keepsake, thus to be saved from the proposed  ‘bonfire’ of paintings? (See my by-chance concurrent real-time review of ‘The Burnt Orange Heresy’ from 1971 HERE.)

The socially difficult psychology when dealing with women of both narrators is similar. A parental accident by air travel to Paris. A mother and father arguing about such a trip, then both killed by it. Why is this significant?

A painting seeming  to be painted by someone else, self-taught by the extra soul within? “It is a commonplace that there is often more than one soul in a single body.” A painter called Xavier Mellery who claimed “that he painted silence.” One of many painters that the second narrator treated as “stations on a spiritual ascent.”

Reaching Madame A’s house, as if part of Aickman’s obsession with gluey Zenoism. Indeed, on ‘the very last stretch’ of this journey, he says he ceases to be anxious. Towards golden walls and golden frames. With furnishings “to spring upwards in ecstasy, to sag in melancholia…” And a life-size marble figure of a woman giving birth to a succubus.

Madame A. herself, “perfectly agile, but curiously uncouth in her movements”, later “standing dumpily”, but with golden slippers on her feet. She tells of a man who was madly in love with her whom she wouldn’t have used as pocket handkerchief for her grippe! The mediocre or self-abusing or dull painters she lists by alphabetical letters — as if her own name of A. started this list?

Much talk of Madame A’s pretty ‘adopted daughter’ Chrysothème, whom we never see but we can run our hands through her clothes. Even kiss them. One dress was “some kind of mottled orange and red.” 

The aforementioned crucial painting was, I think, a cross between an angel and a clown, and I may dream later that I hang above this story like one of its readers lit up…. “… on the single golden light that hung by a golden chain from the golden ceiling of the landing…”, except the exact context subsumed this hope?

“I am trying to set down events and my feelings exactly as they were, or as nearly as possible…” — taken the words out of my mouth, as it were! 

All my reviews of Aickman here:

PS: see comments below

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