The Manticore – The Deptford Trilogy #2 by Robertson Davies


My Sorgenfrei Diary

Dec. 17, Wed.: Wretched letter from Netty this morning. Was feeling particularly well because of Dr. Johanna’s saying on Monday that I had finished my anamnesis so far as she thought it necessary to go; extraordinary flood of energy and cheerfulness. Now this.

Seven pages of her big script, like tangled barbed wire, the upshot of which is that Meritorious Matey has at last done what I always expected him to do — revealed himself as a two-bit crook and opportunist. Has fiddled trust funds which somehow lay in his clutch; she doesn’t say how and probably doesn’t know. But she is certain he has been wronged. Of course he is her brother and the apple of her eye and Netty is nothing if not loyal, as the Staunton family knows to its cost — and also, I suppose, to its extraordinary benefit. One must be fair.

But how can I be fair to Matey? He has always been the deserving, hard-working fellow with his own way to make, while I have hardly been able to swallow for the weight of the silver spoon in my mouth. Certainly this is how Netty has put it to me, and when Father refused to take Matey into Alpha and wouldn’t let Matey’s firm handle the audit of Castor, she thought we were bowelless ingrates and oppressors. But Father smelled Matey as no good, and so did I, because of the way he sponged on Netty when he had no need. And now Netty begs me to return to Canada as soon as possible and undertake Matey’s defence. “You have spent your talents on many a scoundrel, and you ought to be ready to see that a wronged honest boy is righted before the world”; that is how she puts it. And: “I’ve never asked you or the family for a thing and God knows what I’ve done for the Stauntons through thick and thin, and some things will never be known, but now I’m begging you on my bended knees.”

There is a simple way of handling this, and I have done the simple thing already. Cabled Huddleston to look into it and let me know: he can do whatever can be done fully as well as I. Do I now write Netty and say I am unwell, and the doctor forbids, etc., and Frederick Huddleston, Q.C., will take over? But Netty doesn’t believe there is anything wrong with me. She has let Caroline know that she is sure I am in some fancy European home for booze-artists, having a good time and reading books, which I was always too ready to do anyhow. She will think I am dodging. And in part she will be right.

Dr. Johanna has freed me from many a bogey, but she has also sharpened my already razorlike ethical sense. In her terms I have always projected the Shadow onto Matey; I have seen in him the worst of myself. I have been a heel in too many ways to count. Spying on Carol; spying on Denyse; making wisecracks to poor slobbering Lorene that she wasn’t able to understand and which would have hurt her if she had understood; being miserable to Knopwood; miserable to Louis Wolff; worst of all, miserable to Father about things where he was vulnerable and I was strong. The account is long and disgusting.

I have accepted all that; it is part of what I am and unless I know it, grasp it, and acknowledge it as my own, there can be no freedom for me and no hope of being less a miserable stinker in future.

Before I came to my present very modest condition of self-recognition I was a clever lad at projecting my own faults onto other people, and I could see them all and many more in Maitland Quelch, C.A. Of course he had his own quiverful of perfectly real faults; one does not project one’s Shadow on a man of gleaming virtue. But I detested Matey more than was admissible, for he never put a stone in my way, and in his damp-handed, grinning fashion he tried to be my friend. He was not a very nice fellow, and now I know that it was my covert spiritual kinship with him that made me hate him.

So when I refuse to go back to Canada and try to get Matey off, what is my ethical position? The legal position is perfectly clear; if Matey is in trouble with the Securities Commission there is good reason for it, and the most I could do would be to try to hoodwink the court into thinking he didn’t know what he was doing, which would make him look like a fool if slightly less a crook. But if I refuse to budge and hand him over even to such a good man as Huddleston, am I still following a course that I am trying, in the middle of my life, to change?

Oh Matey, you bastard, why couldn’t you have kept your nose clean and spared me this problem at a time when I am what I suppose must be called a psychic convalescent?

Dec. 18, Thurs.: Must get away. Might have stayed in Zurich over Xmas if it were not for this Matey thing, but Netty will try to get me on the telephone, and if I talk with her I will be lost. . . What did she mean by “some things will never be known”? Could it possibly be that Carol was right? That Netty put Mother in the way of dying (much too steep to say she killed her) because she thought Mother had been unfaithful to Father and Father would be happier without her? If Netty is like that, why hasn’t she put rat-poison in Denyse’s martinis? She hates Denyse, and it would be just like Netty to think that her opinion in such a matter was completely objective and beyond dispute.

Thinking of Netty puts me in mind of Pargetter’s warning about the witnesses, or clients, whose creed is esse in re; to such people the world is absolutely clear because they cannot understand that our personal point of view colours what we perceive; they think everything seems exactly the same to everyone as it does to themselves. After all, they say, the world is utterly objective; it is plain before our eyes; therefore what the ordinary intelligent man (this is always themselves) sees is all there is to be seen, and anyone who sees differently is mad, or malign, or just plain stupid. An astonishing number of judges seem to belong in this category. . .

Netty was certainly one of those, and I never really knew why I was always at odds with her (while really loving the old girl, I must confess) till Pargetter rebuked me for being an equally wrong-headed, though more complex and amusing creature, whose creed is esse in intellectu solo. “You think the world is your idea,” he said one November day at a tutorial when I had been offering him some fancy theorizing, “and if you don’t understand that and check it now it will make your whole life a gigantic hallucination.” Which, in spite of my success, is pretty much what happened, and my extended experiments as a booze-artist were chiefly directed to checking any incursions of unwelcome truth into my illusion.

But what am I headed for? Where has Dr. Johanna been taking me? I suspect toward a new ground of belief that wouldn’t have occurred to Pargetter, which might be called esse in anima: I am beginning to recognize the objectivity of the world, while knowing also that because I am who and what I am, I both perceive the world in terms of who and what I am and project onto the world a great deal of who and what I am. If I know this, I ought to be able to escape the stupider kinds of illusion. The absolute nature of things is independent of my senses (which are all I have to perceive with), and what I perceive is an image in my own psyche.

All very fine. Not too hard to formulate and accept intellectually. But to know it; to bring it into daily life — that’s the problem. And it would be real humility, not just the mock-modesty that generally passes for humility. Doubtless that is what Dr. Johanna has up her sleeve for me when we begin our sessions after Christmas.

Meanwhile I must go away for Christmas. Netty will get at me somehow if I stay here. . . Think I shall go to St. Gall. Not far off and I could hire ski stuff if I wanted it. It is said to have lots to see besides the scenery.

Dec. 19, Fri.: Arrive St. Gall early p.m. Larger than I expected; about 70,000, which was the size of Pittstown, but this place has an unmistakable atmosphere of consequence.

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Categories: Davies, Robertson