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“Afterimage” by Helen Humphreys

Literature is a source for human imagination. It is impossible to imagine our world without literature. When people read a book they are involved in the process with such power that it is sometimes impossible for them to tear themselves away from the book. People relax when they read books, especially if we are talking about love novels. Love novels open people the new world of love, romance and relations. This imaginary world entertains people, give them the image of life which they, maybe, do not have in reality.

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We are going to give a review of the book “Afterimage” by Helen Humphreys in our essay. Helen Humphreys’ sensitive novel may be called historical as it introduces Victorian England as it was. The Victorian era is represented with its advantages and disadvantages from the modern point of view, when it can be analyzed from the side. Even people, who lived during those times, could not give such vivid and lively images of themselves. Helen Humphreys gives a vivid description of the life of countryside compared with London in the 1800s. ‘The country is so different from London’ (Humphreys 2002).

The book is written in a very good organized language. Helen Humphreys is a poetess, so her language is poetic with lots of epithets, metaphors and similes, which give her language vividness and variety. It is very interesting to read her books not only because of the plot, but because of the language as it is easy and lively. Her style of writing is very light and beautiful.

The main character is written relying on the life and work experience of Julia Margaret Cameron. Annie Phelan is an Irish young girl, a new servant in the house of Isabelle and Eldon Dashell. Annie lost her family several years ago. She is a rather educated young woman who speaks in a way that does not fit her social position, in fact it is much higher. Isabelle Dashell saw Annie for the first time as ‘a dark-haired, scared-looking girl of perhaps twenty, in a worn-out gray dress, her skin still milky with youth’ (Humphreys 2002).

The book is about unrealized dreams. Isabelle Dashell is a not famous photographer, who wants to gain respect and recognition in male society. But what was the problem? The answer is on the surface: the action takes place in the Victorian era and women were considered to be housewives who could not think creatively.

It was a belief that women did not have souls and it was a huge distinction for them to become great and honorable artists (Humphreys 2002). But Isabelle believed in the equality of sexes and tried to follow that idea on her way to male recognition in the society. Moreover, Isabelle was a rather talented photographer and she knew it, she believed in herself and in her talent. Her work is everything for her, ‘It’s just that I don’t like my day’s work to be interrupted’ (Humphreys 2002). It may come from her words that her work is her real life, there was one situation after she was interrupted from work, ‘Isabelle glances out the window, where her real life is waiting for her return’ (Humphreys 2002). She likes everything to be done immediately and only to her favor, ‘How can I be expected to remember what I wanted? (Humphreys 2002)’ she once said.

Isabelle wanted to reach her aim and to enter the male society. She needed a muse, a person or thing which could inspire her. And such a person appeared in her life. It was Annie. Annie became not only her muse, but also her model. And it was one more barrier on Isabelle’s way: it was a prejudice that artists could not make photos of live models. By the way, her husband, Eldon, supported her photography, in spite of the fact that he did not have artistic talent. He also believed in the idea of equality of sexes as his wife did.

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One day Isabelle reached her aim: she gained success and was adopted in the society. But at that very moment she understood that all that was not so important, that there are so many things in the life which deserve more attention: love, family, relations. She understood that there are some things which can disappear when some time passes and you do not pay attention to them.

She knew that art is eternal. ‘Art is like a light. Isn’t it? Always burning with the same brightness, no matter how long we’ve been gone from the room’, says Isabelle Dashell to Annie (Humphreys 2002).

This effect is called ‘afterimage’. The important events also leave this effect of ‘afterimage’. When something serious happens the effect stays for a long time further. The title of the novel “Afterimage” is rather symbolic in this relation.

Isabelle’s husband Eldon Dashell also had unrealized dreams. He was a cartographer. He liked travelling and his dream was to travel around the whole world. But that dream could never be realized as he was ill: his disease did not allow him to travel (Humphreys 2002). So, he became to dream about more realized things. He wrote some pieces of works and dreamed to make cartography of the whole world. The work did not go as he wanted and he also needed some inspiration and support.

Annie Phelan appeared in their life at the proper time. She became a muse and a model for Isabelle and helped and supported Eldon just talking with him about books and his work.

The private life of Isabelle and Eldon Dashell was casual and measured like the life of most married couples who lived for many years together. Isabelle and Eldon had three stillborn children. Isabelle kept a children’s room in the attic with children’s furniture and toys. After the third case Eldon had never touched his wife any more. Their relation was just like that of friends. They needed some push or shake to reappear again,

Annie’s appearance led some new feelings into the private life of Isabelle and Eldon and shaken them. Isabelle found in herself romantic feelings to Annie. Eldon also fell in love with Annie and a love triangle between them. The relations exist, as we may think, but we cannot read about them, only think and imagine.

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There was only one kiss between Isabelle and Annie, and nothing else. During reading the book you wait for some denouement, but nothing happens. It may be one of the disadvantages or advantages of the plot: not much actions and events happen. Or if they happen they do not develop and struck in the air, as it may appear from the first sight. We may make a conclusion from the further plot narration that there was a development in their relations and it was something more than a kiss, but all that is left to the imagination of the reader. The impression is that only the half of the plot is available to us.

This is a simple story of close family relations, when a strange person appears. The relations inside the family are changing. The life receives a new direction, more vivid and varied.

The changes are always made for better, as we know, but sometimes these changes may lead to new complications. Isabelle and Eldon’s life changed with the appearance of Annie in their house and Annie’s life also changes, but not for long. At the end of the novel, when the house was burnt, Annie has nothing to do as to leave her present place of work and return home, to London.

The novel shows us that many things are possible, especially if you want them to happen. Annie was able to awake love and passion in hearts of two people in time when much was forbidden and thought to be unreal. Annie led vividness and liveliness to the life of the house.

The mentioned ‘afterimage’ effect takes place here. Annie came, changed the life of people in the house, Isabelle and Eldon Dashell, and leaves after the fire leaving Isabelle’s life and range of interests changed. Eldon Dashell died and Isabelle stayed alone with her photography and the ‘afterimage’.

The story is a good example of a wish, which is not so important any more. Isabelle wanted to reach some success in photography. She did it. And there was disappointment. She understood that it was not so important. The story is a good example of relations, which had grew cool and than flourished again with the coming of a stranger in life. The story is a good example of Victorian England and people’s life and attitude to the world during this era. It is also a good example of poetic writing.

Afterimage may appear in the life of every person and even when the striking event had passed it is impossible to lead previous life. The event leaves its imprint. Even one word may change everything, people’s attitude changes and it will never become previous.

Works Cited

Humphreys, Helen. Afterimage. Picador, 2002.

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