The Governesses is short and strange: fable-like, dream-like, with three governesses like maenads and/or like The Three Graces (to whom they are explicitly compared, I think more than once). There is a house and a garden, and another house across the road in which lives an elderly gentleman who likes to watch the governesses through his telescope; in the house with the governesses are a married couple and an unspecified number of small boys and “little maids”. There are woods nearby, and wild animals; the governesses are themselves more than a little wild. There is a party planned but postponed; there is a lot of undressing. I’m sure this book is saying things about female desire and the male gaze and motherhood and coupledom but what sticks with me is the house and the woods, branches and meadows. I think somehow of Joseph Cornell, of Bébé Marie or Pink Palace.

Early in the book there’s this, about the way the governesses’ pasts are somehow consumed/subsumed when they arrive at the house:

“all the trees they had ever known—the ones in the school playground, for example, and the ones outside grandma’s house and along the road to the beach—came rushing into Monsieur and Madame Austeur’s garden, lining up side by side with the elms and oaks, and then disappearing inside them. The same thing happened with houses, barns, châteaux, and whole towns. They all came storming through the wide-open gates the morning of the governesses’ arrival, then on into the house, so that by the time the first night had fallen Monsieur and Madame Austeur’s house had swallowed up a considerable quantity of roofbeams, tiles, chimney stacks, and still-ticking grandfather clocks.”

I love that, and also the part a bit later where Monsieur Austeur is described as “watching over the heart of the house like a grandfather clock”:

“Ensconced in his armchair at the center of the room he receives all these cries, these chirrups and yelps from the women and children of the house, and, shuffling them together in his heart, sends them back transformed, slow and steady like the signals from a lighthouse.”

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