The House in Fata Morgana opens with the formation of a disembodied presence in an otherworldly mansion. A maid who has been in this place for an indiscernible amount of time refers to this person as a ‘master’ of the house, whom she is bound to serve. Being only partially formed and without memory, the maid suggests that they explore the mansion in the hopes that it will illuminate the truth.
Behind each door in the building exists the capsulized memories of previous masters, but brief glimpses of the masters hopes and dreams, followed swiftly by the tragedies that ultimately consumed them. By exploring these tales of woe, the pair hope to uncover why this latest master came to be here, and who they might be.
Upon opening the first door we are taken back to 1603, a period of great advancement for education and the arts, wherein we meet Mell Rhodes, a young man from a middling line of nobles. We learn from the maid of his happy childhood, spent learning of the world, engaging with religion, and playing along with his doting sister Nellie. It quickly becomes clear that while the siblings have a close relationship, Nellie’s idolization of Mell as a “prince” is more than just a whimsical fancy, encouraged further by Mell’s inability to show desire for anything significant beyond making her happy.
Nevertheless, their dynamic manages to continue along conflict-free until they both reach an age in which they are each expected to marry and secure the family line. The arrival of a uniquely white-haired serving girl, who Mell quickly because infatuated with, begins to create a rupture in the family. The girl’s presumably low social standing makes marrying her difficult, which is a point that Mell’s priest keenly confides in him. At the same time Nellie is pushed into a surprise engagement with a suitor who is distinctively Not-Mell.
Unable to bear the possibility of losing herself and her “prince” to other people, Nellie openly confesses her incestuous love to Mell in the hopes that he will appease her just like he always did. However Mell, who at this point is totally committed to the white-haired girl, rejects her love as “impure”, choosing rather to deny the severity of her wishes than confront them head on. From here the tale then rushes to its inevitably dark conclusion, as we learn that the white-haired girl is actually Mell’s half sister, born from an affair between his mother and an accomplished painter.
In this twist of irony Mell is forced to face the reality that his desires are just as incestuous and ‘impure’ as Nellie’s, whose thoughts and feelings he had so nonchalantly cast aside. None of their relationships survive this revelation of course. Nellie tries to replace the white-haired girl in Mell’s mind, though faces rejection and the inevitability of her forced marriage. The half-sister, shaken by Nellie’s hostility towards her, runs away from the estate never to return. In the end Mell is left heartbroken amidst a broken family, continually reliving the same events in his mind and wondering why it had to end in such a harrowing way.
The second door takes us forward in time, 1707, where advances in sea trade coupled with increasing colonization efforts have left the world feeling far smaller and inter-connected. We begin in the mind of a beast which has stumbled its way into the human world. Chased away from a local village because of its innate otherness, the beast discovers the mansion where our trusty maid, as present now as she has always been, humbly welcomes it as the new master of the since abandoned home.
For a time it finds comfort in taking residence and after enough months have passed it even begins to utter the occasional word. Despite finding safety it continues to grapple with its existence as a beast, and when a traveling merchant arrives seeking shelter it takes but one misinterpreted hint of aggression for the beast to slaughter the guest. Accepting that it can never be human, it begins to revel in the act of killing, even going so far as to instruct the maid to cook meals from the desecrated corpses of its victims.
As before, a white-haired girl arrives at the mansion. This time she is blind and homeless. Finding shelter in the mansion, her kind-hearted demeanor and sightless eyes allows her to build a rapport with the beast, with him humoring her presence in part because she can’t see his ghastly appearance. Though these interactions seem to bring him closer to mankind for a while, it is all undone when another beast arrives and forces him to kill or be killed – a violence which finally breaks the last tethers he had to humanity.
At the same time we see visions of a woman named Pauline, who is missing her mercantile romantic partner, eventually making the decision to set out and find him – even if what remains is only a grave. She visits the village that the beast first passed through, incessantly questioning his disappearance for long enough to befriend the only boy willing to take her to the mansion where her partner likely died. Peeking through the windows she sees that he is still alive. In a fit of passion she barges into the building, desperately calling out to him, only to be cut down by a now panicked beast.
It is only in the aftermath of these parallel stories do we learn the complete truth. The ‘beast’ is not actually a monster in the fairy-tale sense. He is Yukimasa, a Japanese merchant whose ship was destroyed in a storm. Washing up to shore in a foreign land and suffering from significant memory loss, he was treated with open contempt by the locals due to his perceivably foreign appearance until they finally decided to take up arms and drive him out.
Winding up at the mansion with no idea where he came from and having a newfound fear and hatred for the locals, he adopted the persona of a beast in order to internalize his isolation. Killing as the ‘beast’ allows him to enact revenge of those who hurt him, in the process discovering that he actually enjoys the act of hurting others. By the time his partner arrives to rescue him, he refuses to recognize her, striking her down with little hesitation and cementing himself as inhuman. When the villagers learn of what he did to the girl, they take up arms one more time, leading to the deaths of both the white-haired girl and Yukimasa (as an identity).
The third door takes us ever closer to the present, reaching 1869 and the tale of Jacopo Bearzatti, an industrialist entrepreneur who is implied to have come from one of the many prominent mafia families. Now occupying the mansion, he oversees the local factories and has designs on constructing a new railroad. His aggressive pursuit of profits and new technologies creates massive income inequality earning him widespread animosity.
The conflict of door three is much more direct than the previous two, chronicling the shaky marriage between Jacopo and, as you might now have expected, this era’s incarnation of the white-haired girl. They first meet as they are married, their engagement clearly arranged beforehand. While Jacopo is cynical about a girl ever loving him under such circumstances, he goes out of his way to give her at least one day of happiness, choosing to take her out into town to visit an early photography shop.
Having lived a sheltered life the white-haired girl is amazed by all the modern technology Jacopo introduces to her. However it is a single gift that impresses her the most. a device with the appropriately disorientating name “phenakistoscope”. It creates the illusion of moving images by employing animation techniques, a process that she is barely able to comprehend (much to Jacopo’s irritation), yet appreciates dearly for being allowed to see.
Their marriage never quite reaches the same high point of that first trip. With Jacopo buried in his work his wife becomes more and more neglected. The servants, having long since picked up on this, take the opportunity to aggressively vent their frustrations onto the lady of the house with complete impunity. While the white-haired girl endures most of their torments without complaint, she does still find solace in her friendship with Maria, the only servant in the house sympathetic towards her.
Maria herself makes many efforts to show the white-haired girl a world outside the mansion, encouraging her to do things like dressing up and practice dancing. Unfortunately Jacopo interprets this behavior as a sign that his wife is cheating on him, subsequently refusing to speak to her and taking even further action by locking her up in indefinite confinement. This punishment goes on for many months, with a stream of secret love letters seemingly confirming Jacopo’s suspicions.
This all ends when Jacopo makes one last attempt to reconcile with his wife, finally deciding to speak with her and hear an explanation. Instead he finds an empty room with a love letter, this time addressed to him, detailing how she fell in love with him that day at the store, and how nothing could ever break that bond. Confused, Jacopo confronts Maria (who as a trusted friend of Jacopo had placed the seeds of mistrust and delivered the letters to him) learning the shockingly bitter truth.
In their childhood Maria had belonged to the great Campanella family, the unofficial rulers in the region until they were betrayed and overthrow by the Bearzatti. While Jacopo and Maria had been too young to have any influence over the events that transpired, Maria held onto a fatal grudge, appearing later in life as a dutiful maid and welcomed childhood friend to Jacopo. Utilizing her unique freedoms in the house, she manipulated husband and wife against each other, feeding him lies about the affair and doctoring the letters.
Though Maria dies in her failed attempt to assassinate Jacopo, she did succeed in ruining his marriage. The white-haired girl having lost her mind to the intense isolation and sense of betrayal ran away from the mansion for good. Jacopo spends his entire life trying to find her and fix the damage he had caused, but to no avail, dying alone and childless and spelling the end of his family line.
It is here that we take a step back. After having experienced the collective pain of Mell, Yukimasa, Jacopo and the white-haired girl, the maid finally decides it is time for the current master to open their own door.
What follows is a bittersweet tale of love between a white-haired man called Michel, and for one last time, the white-haired girl. In this era (1099) she is a condemned ‘witch’ on the run from those who would hurt her. He is a man in exile, haunted by a mystical curse that kills any living thing he touches. Though he is initially reluctant to open up to her, they swiftly become close friends and later romantically involved.
Of course they would never be allowed a happy ending in The House of Fata Morgana. The white-haired girl is suddenly attacked, and though Michel manages to save her, she comes into contact with his blood – dooming her to a premature death. Soon after this incident villagers arrive looking to kill the witch. He sacrifices himself to kill the intruders with his tainted blood, blissfully reminiscing on the happy memories they made together.
Yet either due to his sudden death or the power of their bond, the white haired girl survives, swimming in remorse having been left alone in life. It is in this moment that a real witch by the name Morgana calls out to her. She offers them a chance to meet again, only if the white-haired girl is willing to be reincarnated over and over again until their fates cross once more. The girl accepts the offer, and the fourth door closely shortly after.
Contrasting with the previous stories this one is much happier. There is love and there is commitment; yes there is loss, but on the other side remains hope. And it is for that reason, more than any other, that the fourth door is a lie. The masters that are drawn to this mansion simply do not get to have happy endings, that is the established rule, and it is from here that the pieces come together.
The presence at the start of the story is indeed Michel, but the white-haired girl is a fabrication. In this era it is not her who suffers but the maid, now revealed as Giselle, and events are quickly reconstructed with that knowledge.
Giselle enters into Michel’s life as a unknowing servant assigned to him by his father. Unlike in the previous recounting, Michel is much more hostile to her presence and the two often butt heads. While they do manage to work up to a amicable enough understanding of each other, Michel remains suspicious of her nosy quirks, suspecting a deeper motive. After several confrontations with her based on various incomplete accounts, he confronts her with a knife and unwittingly drives her from his home before getting any answers.
Broken and terrified, Giselle runs away to the nearby village where she manages to cobble together a measurably peaceful existence, however unwarranted this change even was. As usual the calm does not last and it’s not long before she is falsely accused of petty theft. As a result Giselle is then pulled back to the mansion once more. attempting to use the mansion’s belongings as payment for her ‘crimes’, though Michel easily drives the villagers off under the pretense of his curse.
After one last confrontation over Giselle’s alleged betrayals, he sits her down and allows her to tell her version of events. In it she recalls how Michel’s father raped her, how she was almost burned at the stake for it, but instead sent to live isolated in the mansion. Giselle then explains how her ambitions for a quiet city life were crushed, and that after all the set backs she simply wants to be listened to, something Michel failed to do.
Feeling remorse, Michel does his best to apologize to Giselle and make amends for the harm he caused by mistrusting her. With enough time the scars of her past begin to heal and the two, as before, develop romantic feelings for each other. While they hold back on sharing these feelings for a while, it reaches an inevitable boiling point, having them share a number of brief but delicate moments of intimacy.
When Michel’s father dies, he sees this as an opportunity to take Giselle from their exile and give her the city life she always wanted. Unfortunately his intentions lead to their downfall. Armed assailants backed by his mother (who did not approve of their relationship) storm the mansion now determined to end the ‘witch’.
In this version of the story Michel’s curse is not anything as grandiose as tainted blood, rather it is the voice of Morgana the witch, and it she who holds the magical powers. In a parting far more painful than before, Michel beseeches Morgana to protect Giselle, giving the assailants what they want to ensure his love’s safety. Though Giselle protests, Morgana fulfills his dying wish and makes it so she cannot intervene.
It is in these final moments that the witch once again makes that accursed offer. Just serve the mansion and when enough time has passed, you will meet again. Giselle, refusing to let that be the way their love ends, accepts.
So it is that the margins of this picture begin to broaden.
The black-haired maid and the white-haired girl who had been appearing throughout history were both Giselle and Michel (appearing as Michelle) respectively. The maid was brought into service under Morgana the witch, who was personally enacting cruel and unusual punishments on the men behind the first three doors for the crimes they committed in a previous life. While Giselle waited hundreds of years for Michel to come back, it took its toll on her, and by the time he appears as a mere phantom she is barely prepared to accept him.
Now together, they should be able to move on happily. Yet the mystery behind Morgana’s ‘door’ and the exact nature of Mell, Yukimasa & Jacopo’s crimes have yet to be explored. To address Morgana’s demons like they had both just done to their own would be a pretty little knot to tie up the story of this mansion. But once more it would be a conceding to a lie. Letters left in Michel’s room reveal one last painfully hidden secret.
Michel was not always known as a man. To his family he was born Michelle, a normal girl who would scarcely draw attention if not for the striking white and red features her albinism gave her. Based on the fact he was born with a vagina, Michel was then raised as a girl, despite having a greater affinity for masculinity (which he was not allowed to express) and an inborn understanding that him being a girl simply did not make sense.
It is when he reaches puberty that the truth of the matter is revealed. Michel was actually born intersex, possessing a vagina but otherwise having male sex characteristics in all other respects. Upon entering his teens his body begins to flood with testosterone, causing his voice to drop and his body to become more muscular. His family, being from the middle ages and lacking knowledge of intersex people, had simply assumed vagina = girl and raised him as such.
This revelation shocks the family, his mother most of all, who treats him as if he is just sick and in need of the right treatment. When time passes and nothing changes, he goes from ‘having a disease’ to being ‘cursed’. Despite Michel’s continued instance they refuse to acknowledge him as a man, leaving him locked and isolated in a room with only servants to interact with.
Cruelties beyond measure ensue under the family’s roof, and it is only after a number of years that he is given an escape. His father, unwilling to accept a stain on his family’s reputation, intends to kill him. Rather than let Michel die, his brothers and his mother orchestrate a plan to fake his death and send him out to an old mansion where he can live in safety. It’s a far cry from acceptance, but Michel finds comfort in it regardless.
From here Michel and Giselle’s fates converge. His father sends her there to die in isolation, not knowing that Michel was secretly living there. Michel’s ‘curse’ was originally just a judgement on his intersex features. His declaration of love in the last tale was so fatal because he repeated that he was a man who loved a woman, causing his mother to abandon hope and allow him to be executed as a demonic witch.
It is extremely fortunate that Giselle still embraces Michel after learning of his secret. Because while The House in Fata Morgana is full of gut-wrenching stories, nothing could taste more bitter than a rejection hundreds of years in the making. Though this couple has had the content of their hearts opened and repeatedly inspected, there is still one more facet of the story that has yet to be comprehended.
In order to understand her life we travel back to a point before she was even born. On her mother’s insistence that she hadn’t slept with any man, Morgana was to be considered a virgin birth – that being the daughter of god born of a human. Though no one believed it, as a young girl Morgana’s head was filled with the belief that she was a saint who could perform miracles.
Believing completely in her mother’s stories, when someone fell ill Morgana immediately offered her own blood to cure them. When the individual turned out to make a full recovery, this only served to affirm the belief in her holy mission. But like Jesus before her, she was forsaken. Sold as a slave by her mother, Morgana felt betrayal for the very first time. Here she was, a proven saint, sold like cattle for a quick profit.
Yet her pains had only just begun. Finding herself in the presence of a wealthy lord, he used her miracles as a cheap party trick for guests. Ignoring her pleas about the sanctity of god’s work he paraded her around, frequently drawing her blood and serving it with wine to appease the nobility. It was an affront to everything Morgana stood for, one which she paid for in mind body and soul. Eventually her body became so scarred that her title became “witch” not “saint”.
After a while a slave revolt against the lord afforded her the chance to escape, though the peace she would next find was a complicated matter. She was kept in a brothel where she had to balance the love and care her new home provided against sharp repulsion over the unholy job the prostitutes carried out. Fortunately(?) her body was too mutilated for her to be made to work, so she at least had that one security. Furthermore the man who had rescued her from the lord continued to stay by her side, softening her wounds and helping build new friendships.
All good things come to an end.
Despite finally starting to open up and find her place amongst this new family, the brothel comes attack from bandits who raid the place and take anyone left alive as slaves, Morgana included. She would be denied lasting happiness a further time.
Bound and in transit she would then meet a man with a peculiar aura. A surprisingly skilled swordsman, all it takes is for him to overpower one guard, grab hold of their weapon, and within seconds the bandits are dead. While this is embraced by the newly-made slaves as a chance at escape, the man instead uses his freedom to butcher them all where they stood. He does make an exception for Morgana though – the man seemingly holding back due to a comment she made prior about failing to show gratitude while she still had the chance.
Now being free but decidedly alone, Morgana is too weary to venture back to civilization and instead makes a life for herself living alone by the lakeside. It is there she gained a reputation as a skilled herbalist and healer. When a young boy with a sickly sister arrives at her doorstep she is all too willing to help, still steadfast in her saintly sense of self-sacrifice. Of course she gives her blood. When the sister only partially recovers, Morgana continues to visit, creating an opportunity for the three to bond, however much is possible given Morgana’s traumatic history.
But where Morgana goes, misery follows. A local lord recruits the skilled killer who had freed himself from slavery not long prior. You see the lord recently learned of the local witch’s power and sets the pieces in motion for her to be abducted, then kept in a community church where her blood could be continually drawn and given away in exchange for tithes that the lord, killer, and boy, would all benefit from.
It is after this happens that Morgana’s mind finally breaks. After all the suffering she had been through, this was an event that not even she could endure. Detaching her identity from that of a saint, for the first time in her life she allows herself to curse the men who had wronged her.
With her death the events of the first three doors are set in place. For the men she met were the original versions of Mell, Yukimasa and Jacopo. Given their own hand made tastes of torment, their reincarnations were made to suffer before having their souls trapped in fata morgana, all the while being observed by the selfless and pure fracture of Morgana’s soul – Michelle, the white haired girl.
It is here that Michel & Giselle’s purpose becomes clear. Carrying their own pain but finding solace in one another, they slowly investigate the motivations of each man, hoping to show Morgana the truth that will release them all from limbo.
Mell feared for his life. When Yukimasa came to him weapon in hand asking to be taken to Morgana, he did not resist. As Morgana remained locked in the tower he continued to feed his sister her blood, condemning him as an active participant in the scheme rather than an innocent victim. In the afterlife he comes to regret his inaction, noting that while his life was in danger he didn’t even try to think of ways he could help Morgana.
Yukimasa was a foreigner with sadistic and oftentimes psychopathic inclinations. Through meeting the nun Pauline at the church he found a way to keep these impulses in check, but in order for him to support them both he needed money. The lord’s scheme provided ample opportunity to accommodate this, but he laments that in doing so he gave in to violence. He brought about the suffering and death of a girl who inspired in him the same changes that Pauline did.
Jacopo was the lord, but at first he was the slave boy. The very same man who rescued her and brought her to the brothel also locked her in a tower and drained her of blood until she died. Feeling angry and disempowered, he coveted control and authority so much it corrupted him. By the time he meets Morgana again, he is so far gone that he can justify abusing the girl he loved so long as it meant staying on top. Jacopo’s regret is losing sight of his goal and allowing himself to become the very thing he sought to eliminate.
Now with all the pieces laid bare, Michel stands by Morgana’s side and asks if she can release them. Feeling that her revenge can no longer sustain itself, she complies, and one by one they fade out – all given the chance to see a brighter future in the next life.
One More Stop To Make
Fata Morgana is not a story that can be answered with a one-size fits all approach. When I first finished it I found myself thinking about character perspectives that I agreed with and the ones that I didn’t. I think it’s a testament to the storytelling that I can walk away from the experience considering the belief systems of characters – not as extensions of the author – but as real people who could have existed, and whose lived experiences I need to respect.
As the story made its clear transition from the isolated stories of the first three doors into the wider narrative of Morgana, Giselle and Michel, I begun to think a lot more about the nature of abuse in Fata Morgana.
Up until the point that the mystery was unwound, it was fairly easy for me to cut off Michelle’s cyclical agony as a rudimentary accessory to the obviously supernatural elements underpinning it. The doors themselves had this really tricky effect of making you believe in their exceptionalism, in the idea that events were so abhorrent that it HAD to be building up to an important point. Yet the more it got pushed into the background, the less viable that excuse became.
Though the tragedies are undeniably spun for the men, and that is what you are expected to focus on, it is the women in each story that instead drew my attention. For I found the most consistent connection between each downfall was the disempowerment of women, who in relating themselves to the men, often suffered excessively next to the supposed targets of the curse.
Let’s look behind the first door. Nellie is a girl who grows up idolizing her older brother, consistently buying into the idea that he was a perfect prince who would ride off into the sunset with her. Because she is not taken seriously and infantilized by those around her, these feelings don’t get addressed until it’s far too late. You might want to argue that incestual feelings should never be taken seriously, and yet that very same attitude proved to be Mell’s undoing. When faced with the reality that he had fallen in love with his half-sister, he couldn’t just make those thoughts disappear, and so it is clear that Nellie’s inner-conflict should have been given the same respect.
Likewise Mell failed to respect Nellie’s autonomy as a young woman, casting aside her complaints about being forced to marry some man she didn’t love. But of course Mell’s want to marry for love is supposed to be obvious! Even when that marriage threatened to break defined boundaries regarding social standing…
And what thought was given to Michelle? Being chased by a rich and powerful man who offers her a life of comfort but asks that she willingly come between him and his sister. She was hardly in a position to turn down such an offer, yet it led to suffering all the same thanks to Mell’s headstrong recklessness. Michelle’s initial resistance to his advances were not unfounded, making it another clear signal she gave him that he uncomfortably ignored.
How things would have been different had Mell treated his sister as an emotional equal. Had he respected the barriers to her personal freedom. Had he proceeded more carefully with Michelle and taken time to consider her position.
Through the second door we see the deaths of both Michelle and Pauline. These women both experienced their own hardships and persevered, only to die because Yukimasa succumbed to his own. Michelle was a girl left mistreated and unaccommodated for due to her visual impairment, a common disability that decided she would forever be a ‘less than’. Pauline travels from a far away land and experiences a similar xenophobia to Yukimasa. Unlike him she does not give in to hatred, eventually showing at least one villager that she was human just like them.
Both of these girls die because Yukimasa recognizes that he is an ‘other’ but simultaneously takes this as an excuse to label everyone else an enemy. Whereas Michelle and Pauline learn to move forward without ever excusing the injustices they face, Yukimasa deliberately disassociates so he can justify the act of killing those he runs counter to. You can even lean this into a less favourable approach and say that they died as a result of Yukimasa’s unchecked lust for killing – his unwillingness to stop meant they alone faced the consequences.
Jacopo’s story is the most egregious of them all. His wish for a happy marriage could have been granted if only he had treated Michelle like a human being. From their first meeting he derides her lack of awareness for modern technology (despite never being taught) and belittles her very real excitement over their marriage. He failed to stop the servants abusing her because he rarely even acknowledged her presence. When Maria tells him she is having an affair he buys it with little encouragement. Then he locks her up in a shack, refuses to talk to her, and calls that the appropriate response to infidelity. If Michelle wasn’t the literal embodiment of a saint I’d have a hard believing she was real, because after all this she is still willing to give him the love he so desperately craves, and all he need do is talk to her! He never does.
Now Maria is certainly not as innocent as Michelle, but the comments she makes to Jacopo are quite sympathetic. Her family was utterly torn apart by a power hungry man, condemning her to a life of poverty and reluctant servitude. Being a woman in a man’s world means she is unable to take up the mantle for herself, to become ‘self-made’ like Jacopo, and it is for this reason she decides to enact a prolonged and painful revenge against him.
Had she not been confined by her gender, it is questionable as to whether this all would’ve happened. Their conflict might still have taken place, yes, but it would be in a completely different arena to before, one that avoids using Michelle as a weapon. Alas, that wasn’t the way of it, and the final twist of the knife comes from Jacopo’s sheer unwillingness to appreciate how a woman could possibly hold a grudge for the murder of her family and the theft of her stature.
What of Michel then? Having been raised incorrectly as a girl, the story centres womanhood far more openly than any perspective prior. Michel frequently faces the restrictive boundaries of traditional gender binaries from as early as he could express himself. Being perceived as a girl meant that participating in masculine pursuits was not just a perversion of the natural order, but something so threatening it must be fought against. Had it been more acceptable, the revelation of Michel’s identity during puberty could have followed a smooth conversion into masculinity.
Indeed Lydia, Michel’s mother, has such a violent reaction to him being a man because ‘one or the other’ is all she knows. Her strict lessons on how a woman should act and what a woman’s purpose is are largely informed by a system that far out-dates her. So ingrained is Lydia’s mindset that it actively causes her anguish to see it torn apart despite how oppressive and unfair it truly is, as we see when ‘Michelle’ is forced upon by a man who is passively encouraged not to respect the personal space of women.
Aimee is the first to vocalize her disdain for contemporary femininity. Facing the reality of being a woman, she finds her choices are always limited and unsatisfying. She seethes with anger that her path forward in life requires marriage, housekeeping and games of etiquette, all the while putting on a polite smile and playing along with it. Yet at times even she fails to recognize the barriers constricting women, buying into the idea that lesbianism is contemptible and refusing to support Michel’s attempts to break away from femininity.
Aimee’s torture of Michel is completely reprehensible, however it would be remiss of me not to explore her twisted reasoning for it. As a woman, choosing her own sexual partner just once has her labeled a whore. Not only are her sexual liberties restricted, the adulterous connotations could have been avoided had she more of a say in choosing a romantic partner to begin with. Her sadistic tortures punish the wrong source for this, but it is obvious that she carries out the act because for a brief moment it allows her to be the one in control.
Although we are immediately aware that Michel is a man, it is hard to ignore the misogynistic features fueling his suffering. This absolutely does not mean he would avoid facing rejection had the social mobility of women been broader, since intersex people occupy a different strata of oppression to the binary, and freedom through femininity would be incongruent with being accepted as a man. Only that a freer range of expression could’ve actualized his childhood dreams of playing with his brothers and practicing with swords while simultaneously softening the opposition he faced from Aimee and his mother.
When Giselle enters the picture we are reminded of how needed this cultural shift is. Seeing Giselle’s perspective on her rape by Michel’s father is enough to leave you speechless. He was a powerful man and knew it. Exerting his influence over Giselle because of her position as a maid, he exploited the knowledge that she could not afford to lose her job together with the fact that her word automatically carried less weight than his to enact total control. That she had to relinquish her own autonomy is immediately conceivable, as is the unjust trial she is put through, then her exile, then Michel’s hasty distrust of her, then the villagers scapegoating of her, then her relived trauma…
The revelations in Morgana’s story somewhat successfully attempt to ascribe the three men’s failings to personal flaws, most pertinently failing to act, which are factors that can be acted upon and apologized for. Yet the story also refuses to ignore the many systematic and institutionalized causes behind the misfortunes, as we are already invited to see through the lives of women in the many eras we visit.
After all…how much of the sexism can be attributed to the patriarchal societies these people lived under? How much does religious zealotry heighten Morgana’s suffering, to an extent even cause it? What are these men if not individuals looking to draw some sense of meaning out of the oppressive cruelty that surrounds them? Can it not be said that the pathways these characters follow were largely decided for them?
Surely we can at least posit that had it not been Mell and crew, another set of actors would have just as easily taken their place on the stage.
In truth I find myself dissatisfied with that conclusion. It’s technically not incorrect, but as we see with Morgana, when people consciously inflict misery on someone else it is hard to look beyond the individual. She could have easily picked the nameless bandits that raided the brothel, or the nobles that dined with her blood. She could have even cursed the church for not following its own teachings, or feudalism for allowing people with power to abuse those without. Yet she choose the last three men she saw and refused to allow them peace. “No!” she says, I will not allow you to extrapolate what you did. There cannot and will not be a list of points to explain why ‘it wasn’t really your fault’.
It’s for this reason that I found Morgana more relatable than anyone else in The House in Fata. I would not think to make our circumstances appear equal, however I’ve experienced enough from my own encounters with oppression to truly know where her anger comes from. I can say with confidence that when Bad Men have done Bad Things to me, I didn’t see the systems, institutions and norms that made them, I solely saw the living faces of those who evidently cared little for my existence.
You can have endless philosophical debates on whether the punishment fits the crime in Fata Morgana. Maybe you even have a hot take that argues Morgana is the real villain of the story. That she wasn’t quite as perfect and forgiving as Michel can be seen as proof that she could have done better. “She’s no different than Yukimasa or Jacopo!” you might say.
Yet to boil The House in Fata Morgana down to a black & white judgement of a single character’s actions would be to overlook a treasure trove of meaningful narrative. I can’t adequately communicate to you how empowering it is to see someone so deeply hurt and disenfranchised kick back at the world. Revenge is not pretty nor should it be, but if we are to define abuses of power as the result of a complex web of poorly established foundations in society, then is it not fair to acknowledge her revenge under the same confines?
I make the case for Morgana not because I think bad acts suddenly become justified when employed against ‘bad people’, but because focusing overly on the anger of the marginalized is misplaced in a society that has (and still does) allow many abuses to be carried out without repercussion. I do wish I could be as strong and resolute in the face of adversity as Michel is, he is without a doubt the person I should aspire to be – but Morgana is who I actually am.
When our fabled witch goes around releasing the souls trapped in the mansion, she makes a clear point of letting them know they aren’t forgiven. If you reached here and didn’t anticipate that, then you weren’t paying attention. While it would be easy for Fata Morgana to descend into a self-righteous and idealistic monologue about the importance of forgiveness no matter what, it wisely steers free of that setup.
That doesn’t mean it’s cynical of the concept though. Michel’s final resolution with the faded traces of his two brothers shows us that his own answer to the pain he experienced is forgiveness. This is something he gives out not because it might be the ‘right’ thing to do, but because he realizes he still loves them in spite of their shortcomings, emphasizing the notion of a choice informed by processed emotions not obligated duty.
Clearly it understands that for survivors of trauma, recovery takes precedence over interpersonal reconciliation. No doubt the men at the mansion would find much peace in Morgana’s forgiveness, but this is thankfully never expected of her. The story instead closes the book only when Morgana decides to move on. By taking this approach it avoids casting judgement on her for not doing any more than that, while at the same time demonstrating that Morgana alone defines the responsibility she has (or does not have) towards her abusers.
The finale earns my respect for not diminishing the strength it takes just to let go of something you hate. I’m sure a quiet minority of readers might have wanted Morgana to forgive them – perhaps even apologize for the tortures she inflicted – but I don’t think that needed to happen. Recovery is a multi-staged process. There is no one true path to be followed. I want you to recognize the pain this young girl went through and understand that a future decided for her would be no future at all.
I know these are topics that are always hard to address in fiction, but I hope you understand now why I think The House in Fata Morgana weaves through them beautifully.
Thanks for reading.
The House in Fata Morgana covers quite a wide range of subjects; more than I could possibly hope to address. This is the biggest reason why I have chosen to exclude and trim down much of the detail the full story contains. I politely ask that you keep this in mind before asking “why wasn’t X included?”.