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ophelia

Like most actors, a model starts her career in the suburbs. I began in Derby. I took sticks of salt and strings of glass beads with which to barter with the natives, in the hope that, in exchange, they would show me the narrow path between the overhanging factories leading to the Art School. Everyone told me that I would never live through this excursion to Derby, but Derby it was that died.

At all Art Schools, no matter where they are situated, the ritual is the same for the model. Arriving ten minutes before the class, she climbs to the top floor and finds the "Life" room, a large room with the professor and perhaps even a few students. The atmosphere is like that of the reptile house at the London Zoo. It smells of hot metal. Over there in the dim corner of the room, about two square feet are curtained off, and this is where the model strips.

When I come out, I step onto the "throne", a small platform some 18 inches high, and the prof poses me: he asks me to lie with my breast facing downward and hips lying on their side. I put my elbows on the throne and throw my abdomen into the air like a dying salmon but it does not land on its side. Then I lie down on my side and throw my thorax around. It does not fall prone.

He comes and stands over me with arms folded, and says: "So, you can't do it".

At moments like this I try to think of this girl who posed as Ophelia. She lay for hours at a time, half-covered only by water in the bathtub supplied for the occasion. When its water heater failed, she soldiered on and held her pose and refrained from disturbing the prof and the students, hovering over her with their wide eyes, tablets, and pastels. She died of pneumonia.

I admire her more than I can tell you, because even the poses they put you into which are not partially submerged, are, after about the first twenty minutes, excruciating....

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:Quentin Crisp, "The Declining Nude", (c) 1949 [excerpt]

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