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The 1,002nd Night

An exhibition featuring depictions of women from the turn of the 20th century tells many tales.

Gilbert Gaul, Waiting, 1876

Gilbert Gaul, Waiting, 1876, oil on canvas, 22 x 48 in.

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In Haruki Murakami’s 2014 short story “Scheherazade,” a man, Habara, is confined to his home for an unnamed reason. A female caretaker, or “support liaison,” whom he did not personally hire, visits him twice a week, providing his sole connection to the outside world. She brings him food and other necessary items, the books, magazines, and CDs he desires, and a selection of DVDs of her own choosing (with which he is not satisfied).

During her visits, they have sex—an activity Habara suspects is one of her formal duties. Afterward, the woman tells Habara a story. Her “strange and gripping” tales provide Habara a sense of relief. Murakami writes, “She captured her listener’s attention, tantalized him, drove him to ponder and speculate, and then, in the end, gave him precisely what he’d been seeking. Enthralled, Habara was able to forget the reality that surrounded him, if only for a moment. Like a blackboard wiped with a damp cloth, he was erased of worries, of unpleasant memories.”

Recording sparse details of her stories in a journal, Habara calls the otherwise unnamed woman “Scheherazade” after the vizier’s artful daughter in the frame narrative of The Book of the Thousand and One Nights. Unlike Habara’s support liaison, the Scheherazade of Middle Eastern legend tells her nightly stories to the monarch Shahryar for her own self-preservation. Shahryar was in the brutal habit of marrying women by night and beheading them in the morning, after the marriages’ consummation. In efforts to break this gory pattern, Scheherazade visits Shahryar every evening, telling him a long, riveting story and leaving in the early morning on a suspenseful cliffhanger. As desirous to learn the stories’ conclusions as a Netflix binge-watcher, Shahryar spares Scheherazade’s head for 1,001 nights, eventually falling in love with her and making her his queen.

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By Sarah E. Fensom

Author: Art & Antiques Magazine | Publish Date: June 2020

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