The Manticore – The Deptford Trilogy #2 by Robertson Davies


The time was drawing near to Christmas, when I knew that Dr. von Haller would make some break in my series of appointments. But I was not prepared for what she said when next we met.

“Well, Mr. Staunton, we seem to have come to the end of your anamnesis. Now it is necessary to make a decision about what you are going to do next.”

“The end? But I have a sheaf of notes still! I have all sorts of questions to ask.”

“Doubtless. It is possible to go on as we have been doing for several years. But you have been at this work for a little more than one year, and although we could haggle over fine points and probe sore places for at least another year, I think that for you that is unnecessary. Ask your questions of yourself. You are now in a position to answer them.”

“But if I give wrong answers?”

“You will soon know that they are wrong. We have canvassed the main points in the story of your life; you are equipped to attend to details.”

“I don’t feel it. I’m not nearly through with what I have to say.”

“Have you anything to say that seems to you extraordinary?”

“But surely I have been having the most remarkable spiritual — well, anyhow, psychological — adventures?”

“By no means, Mr. Staunton. Remarkable in your personal experience, which is what counts, but — forgive me — not at all remarkable in mine.”

“Then you mean this is the end of my work with you?”

“Not if you decide otherwise. But it is the end of this work — this reassessment of some personal, profound experience. But what is most personal is not what is most profound. If you want to continue — and you must not be in a hurry to say you will — we shall proceed quite differently. We shall examine the archetypes with which you are already superficially familiar, and we shall go beyond what is personal about them. I assure you that is very close and psychologically demanding work. It cannot be undertaken if you are always craving to be back in Toronto, putting Alpha and Castor and all those things into good order. But you are drinking quite moderately now, aren’t you? The symptom you complained of has been corrected. Wasn’t that what you wanted?”

“Yes, though I had almost forgotten that was what I came for.”

“Your general health is much improved? You sleep better?”


“And you will not be surprised or angry when I say you are a much pleasanter, easier person?”

“But if I go on — what then?”

“I cannot tell you, because I don’t know, and in this sort of work we give no promises.”

“Yes, but you have experience of other people. What happens to them?”

“They finish their work, or that part of it that can be done here, with a markedly improved understanding of themselves, and that means of much that goes beyond self. They are in better command of their abilities. They are more fully themselves.”

“Happier, in fact.”

“I do not promise happiness, and I don’t know what it is. You New World people are, what is the word, hipped on the idea of happiness, as if it were a constant and measurable thing, and settled and excused everything. If it is anything at all it is a by-product of other conditions of life, and some people whose lives do not appear to be at all enviable, or indeed admirable, are happy. Forget about happiness.”

“Then you can’t, or won’t, tell me what I would be working for?”

“No, because the answer lies in you, not in me. I can help, of course. I can put the questions in such a way as to draw forth your answer, but I do not know what your answer will be. Let me put it this way: the work you have been doing here during the past year has told you who you are; further work would aim at showing you what you are.”

“More mystification. I thought we had got past all that. For weeks it seems to me that we have been talking nothing but common sense.”

“Oh, my dear Mr. Staunton, that is unworthy of you! Are you still scampering back to that primitive state of mind where you suppose psychology must be divorced from common sense? Well — let me see what I can do. Your dreams — We have worked through some dozens of your dreams, and I think you are now convinced that they are not just incomprehensible gases that get into your head during sleep. Recall your dream of the night before you first came to me. What was that enclosed, private place where you commanded such respect, from which you walked out into strange country? Who was the woman you met, who talked in an unknown language? Now don’t say it was me, because you had never met me then, and though dreams may reflect deep concerns and thus may hint at the future, they are not second sight. After some exploration, you came to the top of a staircase that led downward, and some commonplace people discouraged you from going down, though you sensed there was treasure there. Your decision now is whether or not you are going to descend the staircase and find the treasure.”

“How do I know it will be a treasure?”

“Because your other recurrent dream, where you are the little prince in the tower, shows you as the guardian of a treasure. And you manage to keep your treasure. But who are all those frightening figures who menace it? We should certainly encounter them. And why are you a prince, and a child? — Tell me, did you dream last night?”

“Yes. A very odd dream. It reminded me of Knopwood because it was Biblical in style. I dreamed I was standing on a plain, talking with my father. I was aware it was Father, though his face was turned away. He was very affectionate and simple in his manner, as I don’t think I ever knew him to be in his life. The odd thing was that I couldn’t really see his face. He wore an ordinary business suit. Then suddenly he turned from me and flew up into the air, and the astonishing thing was that as he rose, his trousers came down, and I saw his naked backside.”

“And what are your associations?”

“Well, obviously it’s the passage in Exodus where God promises Moses that he shall see Him, but must not see His face; and what Moses sees is God’s back parts. As a child I always thought it funny for God to show His rump. Funny, but also terribly real and true. like those extraordinary people in the Bible who swore a solemn oath clutching one another’s testicles. But does it mean that I have seen the weakness, the shameful part of my father’s nature because he gave so much of himself into the keeping of Denyse and because Denyse was so unworthy to treat him properly? I’ve done what I can with it, but nothing rings true.”

“Of course not, because you have neglected one of the chief principles of what I have been able to tell you about the significance of dreams. That again is understandable, for when the dream is important and has something new to tell us, we often forget temporarily what we know to be true. But we have always agreed, haven’t we, that figures in dreams, whoever or whatever they may look like, are aspects of the dreamer? So who is this father with the obscured face and the naked buttocks?”

“I suppose he is my idea of a father — my own father?”

“He is something we would have to talk about if you decided to go on to a deeper stage in the investigation of yourself. Because your real father, your historical father, the man whom you last saw lying so pitiably on the dock with his face obscured in filth, and then so dishevelled in his coffin with his face destroyed by your stepmother’s ambitious meddling, is by no means the same thing as the archetype of fatherhood you carry in the depths of your being, and which comes from — well, for the present we won’t attempt to say where. Now tell me, have you had any of those demanding, humiliating sessions in Mr. Justice Staunton’s court during the past few weeks? You haven’t mentioned them.”

“No. They don’t seem to have been necessary recently.”

“I thought that might be so. Well, my friend, you know now how very peculiar dreams are, and you know that they are not liars. But I don’t believe you have found out yet that they sometimes like a little joke. And this is one. I believe that you have, in a literal sense, seen the end of Mr. Justice Staunton. The old Troll King has lost his trappings. No court, no robes, a sense of kindliness and concern, a revelation of that part of his anatomy he keeps nearest to the honoured Bench, and which nobody has ever attempted to invest with awe or dignity, and then — gone! If he should come again, as he well may, at least you have advanced so far that you have seen him with his trousers down. . . Our hour is finished. If you wish to arrange further appointments, will you let me know sometime in the week between Christmas and the New Year? I wish you a very happy holiday.”

Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65

Categories: Davies, Robertson