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By Patrick McGrath

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In its time it had been an imposing, airy structure, but when Max and Stella arrived it was in a state of such disrepair there was talk of pulling it down. Much of the glass was broken and what panes remained were thick with dust and cobwebs. The paintwork had flaked off and the woodwork in places was rotted and splitting. Birds had nested inside it, mice and spiders had made their home there, weeds had sprouted through the cracks in the stone floor. But Max Raphael had an affection for all things Victorian, and the exotic architecture of this garden conservatory, with its intricate glazing and joinery, and the graceful Romanesque arches of its windows, all this gave him peculiar delight.

Sculptor. Figurative mostly. You like art, Mrs. ” “I have so little opportunity down here. ” He wasn’t at all obsequious, she said, this was her first impression, nor did he condescend to her. She said there was something solid and mature about him, and I couldn’t help thinking of all the wildly delusional talk I’d heard on the subject of his late wife. She wouldn’t have thought him so solid and mature had she heard any of that, I thought. But she hadn’t, and so, the next day, after gathering what she needed from the vegetable garden, she again went down to the conservatory.

Such relationships vary widely in duration and intensity but tend to pass through the same stages. Recognition. Identification. Assignation. Structure. Complication. And so on. Stella Raphael’s story is one of the saddest I know. A deeply frustrated woman, she suffered the predictable consequences of a long denial collapsing in the face of sudden overwhelming temptation. And she was a romantic. She translated her experience with Edgar Stark into the stuff of melodrama, she made of it a tale of outcast lovers braving the world’s contempt for the sake of a great passion.

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