In nineteenth-century London, Eleanor lives in her deceased parents’ house with her brother Robert and his wife Cora, who is bedridden with a vague illness. Eleanor was previously engaged, but her fiancé died after enlisting in military service. Having become an unmarried woman of a certain age, Eleanor spends her days caring for her sister-in-law. At night, however, she engages in sexual fantasies in front of her mirror, which she imagines as speaking to her in the voice of an unseen lover.
This situation might continue indefinitely were it not for the romantic attentions of a certain Doctor Bishop, who treats Eleanor’s cataracts and prescribes Laudanum to calm Cora’s nerves. Bishop is affectionate and well-meaning, but Eleanor is a quiet storm of resentment and repressed sexuality whose veneer of quiet virtue and good sense is one the verge of cracking.
Vision is a brilliantly written and gorgeously drawn graphic novella that explores the subtleties of how trapped and lonely people isolate themselves while simultaneously seeking connection, but it’s also a sharp and disturbing story about sex and death. The death is understated and phantasmal, while Eleanor’s sexuality and desire is on open display. Each of the erotic scenes is mirrored by a grotesque reflection, such as when the imagery of Eleanor’s self-pleasure with a candle is reflected in an extended scene depicting her eye surgery. Julia Gfrörer’s linework is delicate yet expressive, granting her characters warmth and personality while occasionally portraying them as eerily inhuman.
Eleanor’s story becomes stranger as various small mysteries and imbalances accumulate into an ever more fragmented portrait of a haunted household. The climax is shocking but perhaps not unexpected, and far more questions are raised than could ever be answered. The absence of clear explanations and justifications is part of the appeal of the narrative conclusion, however, while gradual shifts in the ink style contribute to an encroaching sense of dread – and curiosity.
Vision was published by Fantagraphics Books in September 2020. You can read more about the book on the press’s website (here), and you can order a copy from the Julia Gfrörer’s store on Etsy via its listing (here). Gfrörer’s two previous graphic novel publications with Fantagraphics, as well as her zines, are also listed on Etsy, and each is as creepy and fascinating as the next.