The love song of Henry and Olga

On an early spring evening in 1919, in a nearly empty cinema in the English seaside town of Lyme Regis, a slight, dark-haired figure slipped into a seat at the farthest edge of a row. From here, she would have a clear view of the profile of the youthful pianist who, sheltered behind a screen, accompanied the silent film. In white tie and tails, with her fair hair slicked down, the young musician could easily have passed for a boy. But Henry knew better. She had already extracted from the cinema’s owner the useful information that the pianist who gave such superlative performances night after night in the dark, sparsely filled hall was his daughter, Olga. The delicious ambiguity of the young woman’s appearance only added to the pleasure of her effortless improvisations. The soft, feminine form in its stiff, masculine garb was as enticing as the verve and finesse of the music itself.

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Ann-Marie Priest

Ann-Marie Priest

Ann-Marie Priest is a literary scholar and the author of Great Writers, Great Loves: The Reinvention of Love in the Twentieth Century (2006). In 2004 she won the Josephine Ulrick Literature Prize for a short essay, and her work has twice appeared in Best Australian Essays. She teaches academic writing at Central Queensland University.

Published in May 2014 no. 361