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Gothic book bench tells an intriguing story

Learners from HMP Manchester took part in Manchester’s city-wide Book Bench project.

As the only Offender Learning organisation to take part in the project, Novus learners were encouraged to enter a competition to review and nominate their favourite books. The top three winning entries chosen to be represented in the design of the bench were Great Expectations, The Lord of the Rings and The Birds.

The design of the bench was quite challenging as the chosen titles were are all very different. The learners explored the main themes in each of the books to find connections between them. The final design was almost a story in itself.

The bench shows the distraught and haunted face of Miss Haversham – the jilted bride from Great Expectations – at its centre. Miss Haversham is pictured seated at her wedding breakfast table wearing her faded wedding dress, accompanied by the mouldering remnants of her wedding cake.

The clock in the picture stopped on the day she should have been married, as in the book, but it appears to be melting. Inspired by Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory, this image offers another perspective on the nature of time. The cobwebs suggest neglect as time passes by for Miss Haversham, alone and unnoticed in her locked off and unhappy world of decay.

Miss Haversham’s wedding ring sits on the table in front of her. Gollum, the creature from The Lord of the Rings, sits at her feet gazing hungrily at the magic ring he wants for himself. The bird at the top of the picture is feeding off the emotions of longing and distress, desire and rejection.

The Gothic themes and haunting images come together in the creation of the bleak and desolate wood painted on the back of the bench. The darkness is relieved by the vaguest suggestion of light which summarises the mood of the completed design.

The team at HMP Manchester who worked on the bench included members of the Library staff who helped learners select different stories to read and review, and the learners who designed and painted the bench.

The bench has been located in the Royal Exchange Theatre over the summer and is soon to be going on display in the visitor’s room at HMP Manchester.

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