Saturday, May 22, 2010

Robertson Davies' novel approach to Jung

Questions opened with a Weasel Scot who said: “D’ye really know anything about this Yoong, or did ye juist mug up eneuch o’ his stuff to write that noavel?” I replied winsomely that I had been reading Jung for 30 years , and that The Manticore had been kindly received in Zurich, where they were in a position to judge.[1]

“Do you dream much?” asks Dr. Johanna von Haller, a Jungian analyst, in their first session in Zurich. David Staunton, a wealthy Toronto barrister - and functioning alcoholic - has not been much of a dreamer, but he has one from the previous night. In this dream, he left secure and cozy surroundings to travel down back roads where he met a wild Gypsy woman in colorful rags whose whose speech is strange to him. He hurries away and is soon back on familiar ground, speaking from his brief as a barrister in court. Dr von Haller suggests this was an “anticipatory dream” – that the Gypsy was a preview of her, another foreigner whose language is strange to him and from whom he is inclined to flee. “Dreams do not foretell the future,” she observes. “They reveal states of mind in which the future is implicit.” [2]

With this exchange, we are in the midst of the liveliest account of the process of a Jungian analysis that I know. It's in The Manticore, the central novel in the Deptford Trilogy by the wordmaster Robertson Davies, one of my favorite novelists. Davies never underwent analysis - which he described in a letter as "barnacle-scraping" [3] -or any formal training in psychology. On the other hand, he had read Jung for thirty years, kept a portrait of Jung on the wall of his study and was a founder of the Analytical Psychology Society of Ontario. He was a depth psychologist in the classical sense of the word, a student of soul. Like his protagonist, he became increasingly attuned to his dreams and his inner life. It was a vision from reverie that gave him the image of the manticore and thereby gave the book its title - after he transplanted it into the mind and circumstabces of a fictional character.

Davies had completed part one of The Manticore when, dozing on his screened porch after lunch, he saw before him a gallery with an ancient picture, showing a beautiful woman in a classical robe, leading a strange beast on a golden chain. "It had the body and head of a lion, the clawed feet of a dragon, a tail which was barbed as the tails of scorpions are barbed in ancient art, and it had the anguished face of a man." Davies consulted an encyclopedia of mythology and identified the beast in his vision as a manticore. [4]

In the version of the dream that Davies' character tells his analyst, the manticore has his own face and the woman commanding it is Dr Johanna von Haller. When she tells him the name of the beast, he asks, "How can I dream about something I've mever heard of?" She responds: "People very often dream of things they don't know...It is because great myths are not invented stories but objectivizations of images and situations that lie very deep in the human spirit." [5]

Here we are deep into the Jungian understanding of the archetypes of the collective unconscious, but we have come here effortlessly and fluently, thanks to Robertson Davies' word magic and marvelous ear for dialogue. It must be granted that it is highly unlikely that many therapy sessions - and any patient autobiographies - will manifest the eloquence, wit and lightly-worn erudition of these pages. Here is how Dr. von Haller introduces the concept of archetypes: “You might call them the Comedy Company of the Psyche, but that would be flippant and not to do justice to the cruel blows you have had from some of them. In my profession we call them archetypes, which means that they represent and body forth patterns towards which human behavior seems to be disposed, patterns which repeat themselves endlessly, but never precisely in the same way.” [6]

Later the analyst declares, "Our great task is to see people as people and not clouded by archetypes we carry about with us, looking for a peg to hang them on...You will recover all these projections which you have visited on other people like a magic lantern projecting a slide on a screen" [7]

Davies wrote of this novel: "There have been other books which describe Freudian analyses, but I know of no other that describes a Jungian analysis." He added, "I was deeply afraid that I would put my foot in it, for I have never undergone one of those barnacle-scraping experiences, and knew of it only through reading. So I was greatly pleased when some of my Jungian friends in Zurich liked it very much." [8]

The Zurich crowd were not unanimous, however. When Marie-Louise von Franz, one of the most brilliant of the women around Jung, arrived in Toronto, she was quite frosty to Robertson Davies because she was extremely annoyed by the suggestion that she was the model for Johanna von Haller. Davies had never previously met her, though he had read much of her work and admired her greatly as a classical scholar and interpreter of myth and fairytales, as well an excellent explicator of the Jungian psychology of projection and re-collection. [9]

After meeting Swiss frost with Canadian froideur on their first evening, Davies charmed von Franz as he played genial host - as Master of Massey College at the University of Toronto - over the days that followed, and von Franz charmed Davies in turn, with her spin on a dream he recounted to her. In the dream, Davies (whose first career was on the London stage) found himself as an actor in a play. His cue has been given, the audience is waiting, but he does not know his lines and doesn't even know what play he is in. Davies told von Franz that he thought the dream expressed his deep sense of inadequacy. She told him robustly: "I would have said it is an indication to you that you don't go on stage to say what other people have written, but to say what you have to say yourself." [10]


[1]Robertson Davies to Arnold and Letitia Edinborough February 19, 1980 in For Your Eye Alone: The Letters of Robertson Davies edited by Judith Skelton Grant (New York: Viking, 2001)49.
[2] Robertson Davies, The Deptford Trilogy (New York: Penguin, 1990)276. The Manticore was first published in 1972.
[3]Robertson Davies to Leon Edel, Thanksgiving (Canadian Style) 1981 in For Your Eye Alone 72.
[4] Judith Skelton Grant, Robertson Davies: Man of Myth (New York: Viking, 1994) 498.
[5] Deptford Trilogy 404-405.
[6] Deptford Trilogy 449.
[7] Deptford Trilogy 450-451.
[8] Davies to Leon Edel; For Your Eye Alone 72.
[9] Von Franz's master work on this theme, Spiegelungen der Seele, had not yet been published, however. The German edition appeared in 1978; Projection and Re-collection in Jungian Psyxhology, translated by William H. Kennedy, followed in 1980 (LaSalle and London: Open Court, 1980).
[10] Grant, Robertson Davies: Man of Myth 498.


pollymay said...

About 20 years ago I read every book of Robertson Davies available. I couldn't get enough of him,but never knew about his interest in Jung and dreams. I started keeping a dream journal in 1982, and I love finding out information like this that kind of "explains" unconscious connections to me--thanx

Robert Moss said...

Polly, It's good to hear your voice. Robertson Davies was not only one of the greatest of the novelists who have learned from Jung and was inspired by him; Davies was one of the more select band (it seems to me) who grasped what Jung was all about.

fran said...

Hi Robert,

The first Robertson Davies novel I read was The Manticore, a gift from a writer friend. I'd always been interested in Jung since discovering a copy of Man and His Symbols when I was in my teens. Jung himself was dauntingly complex and a bit beyond me at that point. The delight of being given The Manticore was to rediscover the richness possible in delving into the self and in dreams and all the splendor that first made Jung so appealing.

I'm reminded of a phrase from one of your books, "whole soul goodness" which makes me think of what is possible for us. I think reading this novel was one of those experiences that foreshadows what is to come. I felt then that I must eventually find my way into the landscapes of dreams and imagination. That this richness must be part of my life too for my life to be a life worth living.

You've inspired me to dig out my copy from the monstrous mountains of books here, or buy a new one! Thanks for reminding me of this gem. Since it has been so long since I last read this novel I'm wondering if this will be one of those books that you measure yourself by, if it will read at a different level now. Hmmm, looking forward to this! Thanks, Robert!


Robert Moss said...

Thabks, Fran. It's a very interesting experience, returning so a book we read much earlier in life and seeing what it means to us now. Sometimes we have outgrown it; but in the case of a great book it is more often a case of fninding that we have grown INTO it, and are now capable of entering its deeper levels.

suvasini7 said...

I'm a huge fan of von Franz and this story just tickled me!

I am not familiar with Robertson but will have to check out his work.

Thank you also Robert for the Red Book quotes you've been posting. It's hard to entertain even a sliver of falseness in the face of their bold honesty.

Robert Moss said...

Hi Cynthia - Rereading Robertson Davies and delving into his adventures among Jungians around and beyond his fiction brought me to also rereading von Franz' "Projection and Recollection in Jungian Psychology", which to my mind is the most helpful and brilliant of all the Jungian studies apart from those of the great non-Jungian, Jung himself.

suvasini7 said...

Robert, I have Projection and Recollection but have only read parts of it. If you're not already familiar with it, a book I highly recommend for those interested in learning more about von Franz personally was published recently. It's an homage to her, and contains many wonderful anecdotes about her by her analysands: The Fountain of the Love of Wisdom. Come to think of it, I may have recommended it before, when you were working on your book that included Pauli's dream experiences. I have much to learn but have learned so much from her!

Robert Moss said...

Hi Cynthia - Thans (I think) for the book recommendation. I have no shelf space left in my house, but the books keep coming. The other day, the mailman, arriving at the door with three more book passages, chaffed, "Like you need another book, right?" The thing is, some of us will ALWAYS need another book :-)

I have to add this. While Jung and his school gave us some useful terms, I do wish we could all agree to dump that awful word "analysand". Robertson Davies, with his fine ear, detested it too.