chapter  5
Pages 38

Sheila Yeger’s Variations is a dream-play in which all the female characters are split-off aspects of the central figure, Louise. The action is structured around Louise’s train journey to Berlin to collect information for a biography on Clara Schumann (child prodigy, composer, wife of Robert Schumann and mother of his children and, possibly, also lover of Brahms). Prior to the start of the journey, there is a prelude, which consists chiefly of Louise recounting a sequence of dreams to Richard Last, her psychotherapist, and watching Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot on a television screen. The two subsequent acts and the final coda are set chiefly on station platforms, in train compartments, hotel rooms and the reading room of a library. Act one begins on a station platform in Germany. It is night time. The sound of a train pulling out of the station is heard, and a young, blond-haired guard notes its time of departure in a log book. Louise enters. Aged thirty-nine, she is neatly and sensibly dressed. She has booked a sleeper on the 21.49 from Aachen to Berlin and, having arrived at Aachen with forty-nine minutes to spare, has been for a cup of coffee. At least, she planned to order coffee, but somehow found herself asking for chocolate instead. It was ‘surprisingly good…comforting’ (Yeger 1991:178). Neither she nor the Young Guard can speak each other’s language, but, by pointing to her timetable, he manages to explain to her that, on Sundays, the Berlin train departs ten minutes earlier. Louise’s careful itinerary has gone wrong.