The Manticore – The Deptford Trilogy #2 by Robertson Davies

“You should do well at the Bar, Davey,” he said. “You are already an expert at making the worser seem the better cause. To be cynical is not the same as avoiding illusion, for cynicism is just another kind of illusion. All formulas for meeting life — even many philosophies — are illusion. Cynicism is a trashy illusion. But a swordsman — shall I tell you what a swordsman is? It is just what the word implies: a swordsman is an expert at sticking something long and thin, or thick and curved, into other people; and always with intent to wound. You’ve read a lot lately. You’ve read some D. H. Lawrence. Do you remember what he says about heartless, cold-blooded fucking? That’s what a swordsman is good at, as the word is used nowadays by the kind of people who use it of your father. A swordsman is what the Puritans you despise so romantically would call a whoremaster. Didn’t you know that? Of course swordsmen don’t use the word that way; they use other terms, like amorist, though that usually means somebody like your Myrrha, who is a great proficient at sex without love. Is that what you want? You’ve told me a great deal about what you feel for Judy Wolff. Now you have had some skilful instruction in the swordsman-and-amorist game. What is it? Nothing but the cheerful trumpet-and-drum of the act of kind. Simple music for simple souls. Is that what you want with Judy? Because that is what her father fears. He doesn’t want his daughter’s life to be blighted by a whoremaster’s son and, as he very shrewdly suspects, a whoremaster’s pupil.”

This was hitting hard, and though I tried to answer him I knew I was squirming. Because — believe it or not, but I swear it is the truth — I had never understood that was what people meant when they talked about a swordsman, and it suddenly accounted for some of the queer responses I had met with when I applied the word so proudly to Father. I remembered with a chill that I had even used this word about him to the Wolffs, and I was sure they were up to every nuance of speech in three languages. I had made a fool of myself, and of course the realization made me both weak and angry. I lashed out at Knoppy.

“All very well for you to be so pernickety about people’s sexual tastes,” I said. “But what cap do you wear? Everybody knows what you are. You’re a fairy. You’re a fairy who’s afraid to do anything about it. So what makes you such an authority about real men and women, who have passions you can’t begin to share or understand?”

I had hit home. Or so I thought. He seemed to become smaller in his chair, and all the anger had gone out of him.

“Davey, I want you to listen very carefully,” he said. “I suppose I am a homosexual, really. Indeed, I know it. I’m a priest, too. By efforts that have not been trivial I have worked for over twenty years to keep myself always in full realization of both facts and to put what I am and the direction in which my nature leads me at the service of my faith and its founder. People wounded much worse than I have been good fighters in that cause. I have not done too badly. I should be stupid and falsely humble if I said otherwise. I have done it gladly, and I shall only say that it has not been easy. But it was my personal sacrifice of what I was to what I loved.

“Now I want you to remember something because I don’t think we shall meet again very soon. It is this; however fashionable despair about the world and about people may be at present, and however powerful despair may become in the future, not everybody, or even most people, think and live fashionably; virtue and honour will not be banished from the world, however many popular moralists and panicky journalists say so. Sacrifice will not cease to be because psychiatrists have popularized the idea that there is often some concealed, self-serving element in it; theologians always knew that. Nor do I think love as a high condition of honour will be lost; it is a pattern in the spirit, and people long to make the pattern a reality in their own lives, whatever means they take to do so. In short, Davey, God is not dead. And I can assure you God is not mocked.”


I never saw Knopwood after that. What he meant when he said we would not meet again was soon explained; he had been ordered off to some more missionary work, and he died a few years ago in the West, of tuberculosis, working almost till the end among his Indians. I have never forgiven him for trying to blacken Father. If that is what his Christianity added up to, it wasn’t much.

DR. VON HALLER: As you report what Father Knopwood said about Mrs. Martindale, he was abusive and contemptuous; did he know her, by any chance?

MYSELF: No, he just hated her because she was very much a woman, and I have told you what he was. He made up his mind she was a harlot, and that was that.

DR. VON HALLER: You don’t think any of it was indignation on your behalf — because she had, so to speak, abused your innocence?

MYSELF: How had she done that? I think that’s silly.

DR. VON HALLER: She had been party to a plan to manipulate you in a certain direction. I don’t mean your virginity, which is simply physical and technical, but the scheme to introduce you to what Knopwood called the cheerful trumpet-and-drum, the simple music.

MYSELF: One has to meet it somehow, I suppose? Better in such circumstances than many we can imagine. I had forgotten the Swiss were so Puritanical.

DR. VON HALLER: Ah, now you are talking to me as if I were Father Knopwood. True, everybody has to encounter sex, but usually the choice is left to themselves. They find it; it is not offered to them like a tonic when somebody else thinks it would be good for them. May not the individual know the right time better than someone else? Is it not rather patronizing to arrange a first sexual encounter for one’s son?

MYSELF: No more patronizing than to send him to any other school, so far as I can see.

DR. VON HALLER: So you are in complete agreement with what was arranged for you. Let me see — did you not say that the last time you had sexual intercourse was on December 26, 1945? — Was Mrs. Martindale the first and the last, then? — Why did you hesitate to put this valuable instructio to further use? — Take all the time you please, Mr. Staunton. If you would like a glass of water there is a carafe beside you.

MYSELF: It was Judy, I suppose.

DR. VON HALLER: Yes. About Judy — do you realize that in what you have been telling me Judy remains very dim? I am getting to know your father, and I have a good idea of Father Knopwood, and you implied much about Mrs. Martindale in a very few words. But I see very little of Judy. A well-bred girl, somewhat foreign to your world, Jewish, who sings. Otherwise you say only that she was kind and delightful and vague words like that which give her no individuality at all. Your sister suggested that she was cowlike; I attach quite a lot of significance to that.

MYSELF: Don’t. Carol is very sharp.

DR. VON HALLER: Indeed she is. You have given a sharp picture of her. She is very perceptive. And she said Judy was cowlike. Do you know why?

MYSELF: Spite, obviously. She sensed I loved Judy. DR. VON HALLER: She sensed Judy was an Anima-figure to you. Now we must be technical for a little while. We talked about the Anima as a general term for a man’s idea of all a woman is or may be. Women are very much aware of this figure when it is aroused in men. Carol sensed that Judy had suddenly embodied the Anima for you, and she was irritated. You know how women are always saying, “What does he see in her?” Of course what he sees is the Anima. Furthermore, he is usually only able to describe it in general terms, not in detail. He is in the grip of something that might as well be called an enchantment; the old word is as good as any new one. It is notorious that when one is enchanted, one does not see clearly.

MYSELF: Judy was certainly clear to me.

DR. VON HALLER: Even though you do not seem to remember one thing she said that is not a commonplace? Oh, Mr. Staunton — a pretty, modest girl, whom you saw for the first time in enchanting circumstances, singing — an Anima, if ever I heard of one.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson