The Manticore – The Deptford Trilogy #2 by Robertson Davies

MYSELF: I thought you people weren’t supposed to lead your witnesses?

DR. VON HALLER: Not in Mr. Justice Staunton’s court, perhaps, but this is my court. Now tell me; after your talk with your father, in which he referred to Judy as “your little Jewish piece”, and your talk with her father, when he said you must not think of Judy as a possible partner in your life, and after your talk with that third father, the priest, how did matters stand between you and Judy?

MYSELF: It went sour. Or it lost its gloss. Or anything you like to express a drop in intensity, a loss of power. Of course we met and talked and kissed. But I knew she was an obedient daughter, and when we kissed I knew Louis Wolff was near, though invisible. And try as I would, when we kissed I could hear a voice — it wasn’t my father, so don’t think it was — saying “your Jewish piece”. And hateful Knopwood seemed always to be near, like Christ in his sentimental picture, with His hand on the Boy Scout’s shoulder. I don’t know how it would have worked out because I had rather a miserable illness. It would probably be called mononucleosis now, but they didn’t know what it was then, and I was out of school for a long time and confined to the house with Netty as my nurse. When Easter came I was still very weak, and Judy went to Lausanne to a school. She sent me a letter, and I meant to keep it, of course, but I’ll bet any money Netty took it and burned it.

DR. VON HALLER: But you remember what it said?

MYSELF: I remember some of it. She wrote, “My father is the wisest and best man I know, and I shall do what he says.” It seemed extraordinary, for a girl of seventeen.

DR. VON HALLER: How, extraordinary?

MYSELF: Immature. Wouldn’t you say so? Oughtn’t she to have had more mind of her own?

DR. VON HALLER: But wasn’t that precisely your attitude toward your own father?

MYSELF: Not after my illness. Nevertheless, there was a difference. Because my father really was a great man. Dunstan Ramsay once said he was a genius of an unusual, unrecognized kind. Whereas Louis Wolff, though very good of his kind, was just a clever doctor.

DR. VON HALLER: A very sophisticated man; sophisticated in a way your father was not, it appears. And what about Knopwood? You seem to have dismissed him because he was a homosexual.

MYSELF: I see a good many of his kind in court. You can’t take them seriously.

DR. VON HALLER: But you take very few people seriously when you have them in court. There are homosexuals we do well to take seriously and you are not likely to meet them in court. You spoke, I recall, of Christian charity?

MYSELF: I am no longer a Christian, and too often I have uncovered pitiable weakness masquerading as charity. Those who talk about charity and forgiveness usually lack the guts to push anything to a logical conclusion. I’ve never seen charity bring any unquestionable good in its train.

DR. VON HALLER: I see. Very well, let.us go on. During your illness I suppose you did a lot of thinking about your situation. That is what these illnesses are for, you know — these mysterious ailments that take us out of life but do not kill us. They are signals that our life is going the wrong way, and intervals for reflection. You were lucky to be able to keep out of a hospital, even if it did return you to the domination of Netty. Now, what answers did you find? For instance, did you think about why you were so ready to believe your mother had been the lover of your father’s best friend, whereas you doubted that Mrs. Martindale had been your father’s mistress?

MYSELF: I suppose children favour one parent more than the other. I have told you about Mother. And Father used to talk about her sometimes when he visited me when I was ill. Several times he warned me against marrying a boyhood sweetheart.

DR. VON HALLER: Yes, I suppose he knew what was wrong with you. People often do, you know, though nothing would persuade them to bring such knowledge to the surface of their thoughts or admit what they so deeply know. He sensed you were sick for Judy. And he gave you very good advice, really.

MYSELF: But I loved Judy. I really did.

DR. VON HALLER: You loved a projection of your own Anima. You really did. But did you ever know Judy Wolff? You have told me that when you see her now, as a grown woman with a husband and family, you never speak to her. Why? Because you are protecting your boyhood dream. You don’t want to meet this woman who is somebody else. When you go home you had better make an opportunity to meet Mrs. Professor Whoever-It-Is, and lay that ghost forever. It will be quite easy, I assure you. You will see her as she is now, and she will see the famous criminal lawyer. It will all be smooth as silk, and you will be delivered forever. So far as possible, lay your ghosts. . . . But you have not answered my question: why adultery for mother but not for father?

MYSELF: Mother was weak.

DR. VON HALLER: Mother was your father’s Anima-figure whom he had been so unfortunate, or so unwise, as to marry. No wonder she seemed weak, poor woman, with such a load to carry for such a man. And no wonder he turned against her, as you would probably have turned against poor Judy if she had been so unfortunate as to fall into the clutch of such a clever thinker and such a primitive feeler as you are. Oh, men revenge themselves very thoroughly on women they think have enchanted them, when really these poor devils of women are merely destined to be pretty or sing nicely or laugh at the right time.

MYSELF: Don’t you think there is any element of enchantment in love, then?

DR. VON HALLER: I know perfectly well that there is, but has anybody ever said that enchantment was a basis for marriage? It will be there at the beginning, probably, but the table must be laid with more solid fare than that if starvation is to be kept at bay for sixty years.

MYSELF: You are unusually dogmatic today.

DR. VON HALLER: You have told me you like dogma. . . . But let us get back to an unanswered question: why did you believe your mother capable of adultery but not your father?

MYSELF: Well — adultery in a woman may be a slip, a peccadillo, but in a man, you see — you see, it’s an offense against property. I know it doesn’t sound very pretty, but the law makes it plain and public opinion makes it plainer. A deceived husband is merely a cuckold, a figure of fun, whereas a deceived wife is someone who has sustained an injury. Don’t ask me why; I simply state the fact as society and the courts see it.

DR. VON HALLER: But this Mrs. Martindale, if I understood you, had left her husband, or he had left her. So what injury could there be?

MYSELF: I am thinking of my mother: Father knew her long before Mother’s death. He may have drifted away from Mother, but I can’t believe he would do anything that would injure her — that might have played some part in her death. I mean, a swordsman is one thing — a sort of chivalrous concept, which may be romantic but is certainly not squalid. But an adulterer — I’ve seen a lot of them in court, and none of them was anything but squalid.

DR. VON HALLER: And you could not associate your father with anything you considered squalid? So: you emerged from this illness without your beloved, and without your priest, but with your father still firmly in the saddle?

MYSELF: Not even that. I still adored him, but my adoration was flawed with doubts. That was why I determined not to try to be like him, not to permit myself any thought of rivalling him but to try to find some realm where I could show that I was worthy of him.

DR. VON HALLER: My God, what a fanatic!

MYSELF: That seems a rather unprofessional outburst.

DR. VON HALLER: Not a bit. You are a fanatic. Don’t you know what fanaticism is? It is overcompensation for doubt. Well: go on.

Yes, I went on, and what my life lacked in incident it made up for in intensity. I finished school, pretty well but not as well as if I had not had such a long illness, and I was ready for university. Father had always assumed I would go to the University of Toronto, but I wanted to go to Oxford, and he jumped at that. He had never been to a university himself because he was in the First World War — got the D.S.O., too — during what would have been his college years; he had wanted to get on with life and had qualified as a lawyer without taking a degree. You could still do that, then. But he had romantic ideas about universities, and Oxford appealed to him. So I went there, and because Father wanted me to be in a big college, I got into Christ Church.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson