The Manticore – The Deptford Trilogy #2 by Robertson Davies

“Then what did you do?”

“It was seven o’clock on Sunday morning. I called the airport, booked a passage to Zurich, and twenty-four hours later I was here. Three hours after arrival I was sitting in Dr. Tschudi’s office.”

“Was the prisoner Staunton very much depressed by the outcome of the case?”

“It could hardly have been worse for him, because he has a very poor opinion of psychiatry.”

“But he yielded?”

“Doctor von Haller, if a wounded soldier in the eighteenth century had been told he must have a battlefield amputation, he would know that his chances of recovery were slim, but he would have no choice. It would be: die of gangrene or die of the surgeon’s knife. My choice in this instance was to go mad unattended or to go mad under the best obtainable auspices.”

“Very frank. We are getting on much better already. You have begun to insult me. I think I may be able to do something for you. Prisoner Staunton.”

“Do you thrive on insult?”

“No. I mean only that you have begun to feel enough about me to want to strike some fire out of me. That is not bad, that comparison between eighteenth-century battlefield surgery and modern psychiatry; this sort of curative work is still fairly young and in the way it is sometimes practised it can be brutal. But there were recoveries, even from eighteenth-century surgery, and as you point out, the alternative was an ugly one.

“Now let us get down to work. The decisions must be entirely yours. What do you expect of me? A cure for your drunkenness? You have told me that it is not your disease, but your symptom; symptoms cannot be cured — only alleviated. Illnesses can be cured when we know what they are and if circumstances are favourable. Then the symptoms abate. You have an illness. You have talked of nothing else. It seems very complicated, but all descriptions of symptoms are complicated. What did you expect when you came to Zurich?”

“I expected nothing at all. I have told you that I have seen many psychiatrists in court, and they are not impressive.”

“That’s nonsense. You wouldn’t have come if you hadn’t had some hope, however reluctant you were to admit it. If we are to achieve anything you must give up the luxury of easy despair. You are too old for that, though in certain ways you seem young for your age. You are forty. That is a critical age. Between thirty-five and forty-five everybody has to turn a corner in his life, or smash into a brick wall. If you are ever going to gain a measure of maturity, now is the time. And I must ask you not to judge psychiatrists on what you see in court. Legal evidence and psychological evidence are quite different things, and when you are on your native ground in court, with your gown on and everything going your way, you can make anybody look stupid, and you do –”

“And I suppose the converse is that when you have a lawyer in your consulting-room, and you are the doctor, you can make him look stupid and you do?”

“It is not my profession to make anyone look stupid. If we are to do any good here, we must be on terms that are much better than that; our relationship must go far beyond merely professional wrangling for trivial advantages.”

“Do you mean that we must be friends?”

“Not at all. We must be on doctor-and-patient terms, with respect on both sides. You are free to dispute and argue anything I say if you must, but we shall not go far if you play the defence lawyer every minute of our time. If we go on, we shall be all kinds of things to each other, and I shall probably be your stepmother and your sister and your housekeeper and all sorts of people in the attitude you take toward me before we are through. But if your chief concern is to maintain your image of yourself as the brilliant, drunken counsel with a well-founded grudge against life, we shall take twice as long to do our work because that will have to be changed before anything else can be done. It will cost you much more money, and I don’t think you like wasting money.”

“True. But how did you know?”

“Call it a trade secret. No, that won’t do. We must not deal with one another in that vein. Just recognize that I have had rich patients before, and some of them are great counters of their pennies. . . . Would you like a few days to consider what you are going to do?”

“No. I’ve already decided. I want to go ahead with the treatment.”


“But surely you know why.”

“Yes, but I must find out if you know why.”

“You agree with me that the drinking business is a symptom, and not my disease?”

“Let us not speak of disease. A disease in your case would be a psychosis, which is what you fear and what of course is always possible. Though the rich are rarely mad. Did you know that? They may be neurotic and frequently they are. Psychotic rarely. Let us say that you are in an unsatisfactory state of mind and you want to get out of it. Will that do?”

“It seems a little mild, for what has been happening to me.”

“You mean, like your Netty, nobody knows what you are going through? I assure you that very large numbers of people go through much worse things.”

“Aha, I see where we are going. This is to destroy my sense of uniqueness. I’ve had lots of that in life, I assure you.”

“No, no. We do not work on the reductive plan, we of the Zurich School. Nobody wants to bring your life’s troubles down to having been slapped because you did not do your business on the pot. Even though that might be quite important, it is not the mainspring of a life. You are certainly unique. Everyone is unique. Nobody has ever suffered quite like you before because nobody has ever been you before. But we are members of the human race, as well, and our unique quality has limits. Now — about treatment. There are a few simple things to begin with. You had better leave your hotel and take rooms somewhere. There are quite good pensions where you can be quiet, and that is important. You must have quiet and retirement, because you will have to do a good deal of work yourself between appointments with me, and you will find that tiring.”

“I hate pensions. The food is usually awful.”

“Yes, but they have no bars, and they are not pleased if guests drink very much in their rooms. It would be best if it were inconvenient, but not impossible, for you to drink very much. I think you should try to ration yourself. Don’t stop. Just take it gently. Our Swiss wines are very nice.”

“Oh God! Don’t talk about nice wine.”

“As you please. But be prudent. Much of your present attitude toward things comes from the exacerbations of heavy drinking. You say it doesn’t affect you, but of course it does.”

“I know people who drink just as much as I do and are none the worse.”

“Yes. Everybody knows such people. But you are not one of them. After all, you would not be in that chair if you were.”

“If we are not going to talk about my toilet-training, what is the process of your treatment? Bullying and lectures?”

“If necessary. But it isn’t usually necessary, and when it is, that is only a small part of the treatment.”

“Then what are you going to do?”

“I am not going to do anything to you. I am going to try to help you in the process of becoming yourself.”

“My best self, I expected you to say. A good little boy.”

“Your real self may not be a good little boy. It would be very fortunate if that were so. Your real self may be something very disagreeable and unpleasant. This is not a game we are playing, Mr. Staunton. It can be dangerous. Part of my work is to see the dangers as they come and help you to get through them. But if the dangers are inescapable and possibly destructive, don’t think I can help you fly over them. There will be lions in the way. I cannot pull their teeth or tell them to make paddy-paws; I can only give you some useful tips about lion-taming.”

“Now you’re trying to scare me.”

“I am warning you.”

“What do we do to get to the lions?”

“We can start almost anywhere. But from what you have told me I think we would be best to stick to the usual course and begin at the beginning.”

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Categories: Davies, Robertson