February 4, 2012
And Essay On Dual Personality From 1886 To The Present
Burroughs, Edgar Rice: Corpus
Corelli, Marie: Wormwood, 1886
Ouida: Under Two Flags, 1867
Stevenson, Robert Louis: Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, 1886
When I grew up in Michigan not too far from the Saginaw Bay, in a good, cold winter the Bay froze over several feet thick. People drove their cars far out over it to laboriously dig holes through the ice in hopes of catching a fish. Then one day in late Spring when the warmer weather relaxed the bond of the frozen H2O molecules, if you happened to be there at the right time, a loud sharp crack not unlike thunder rose from the ice as the grip of winter ceased its hold and the tens of thousands of acres of ice began their metamorphosis back to water
As the water of the Bay began once more to heave they inexorably drove floes back on the beach in an incredible mountain or ridge of ice twenty feet high stretching for miles that began slowly to dissolve until in the early summer the beach was clear.
In Europe in the eighteenth century a similar process began in 1789-93 when the old social order with a similar loud noise began to dissolve until after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815. A new world order became discernable as different as the ice and water on Saginaw Bay, yet clearly recognizable as the Bay under its two regimes. The reign of the fabulous nineteenth century had made its appearance. Now, at least Western Man had emerged from the cocoon able to assume its powers but first going through a growth period. This was a necessary but difficult period that produced differing results.
A number of conflicting dichotomies arose. Science struggled to be born while its religious antagonist refused to die. Old gods trying the swallow the new. The agrarian basis of wealth began to be supplanted by the Money Trust as the nouveaux riches paired off against the landed nobility. The money managers quickly became the new lords of the earth.
The old standard of slavery began to disappear with the end of the agrarian supremacy as after the American Revolution White Slaves were freed first, then the Black Slaves, the serfs of Central and Eastern Europe were liberated to a freedom they scarce knew how to use. Populations left the countryside to migrate to cities to work in industries as wage slaves until Henry Ford gave them independence and dignity in 1914. Change was everywhere as singers and dancers and fine romancers rose from being members of ignoble professions to become the most admired and wealthy members of the new world order far surpassing in wealth the old landed aristocracy.
The son of a servant and a cricket player, H.G. Wells, became a famous author and savant. Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes from nothing but his imagination and made fortunes while directing the future course of the world. Robert Louis Stevenson wove dream portraits and became a playboy of the western world. Reality as it had been known dissolved like the ice of Saginaw Bay.
Naturally all this very rapid change caused intolerable stresses on society and the personalities of its members as it and they struggled to understand the changes and organize the consequences of those flying changes. As a fact, the last known witness of Waterloo where Napoleon lost his bid died on 5/10/1904. She had witnessed it all from Waterloo to the Wright Bros. flight, if she paid attention to what was going on.
In 1886 two remarkable novels made their appearance on this incredible stage. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde and Marie Corelli’s Wormwood. Perhaps the subject of split personalities had been suggested to their intellects by the multitude of dichotomies cast up on the beach from the old world order to exist in conflict with the new. Perhaps it was the discovery and investigation of the unconscious mind as the unconscious was first exposed by Dr. Anton Mesmer just before the cataclysm began. Whatever it was, before Freud, it began the long investigation of dual and multiple personalities surviving to this day.
I concern myself here with the novelists Marie Corelli, Ouida and Edgar Rice Burroughs.
As much as the revolutionaries would have liked to smash the Catholic Church and religion in general they only succeeded in ending its dominance of European culture which was indeed a good thing. In the process the heresies formerly suppressed by the Church were released to flower in all their glory plus a whole catalog of new ones created by Science. The more ancient heretical sects springing from the destruction of the Knights Templar such as Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism and, even, Satanism rapidly spawned a host of related sects not least of which was Spiritualism. Hindu and Buddhist missionaries began to proselytize Europe and the Americas. Related to these were the various Theosophical groups. Thus the Church had to contend with all these plus the Jews who were emancipated with the Revolution and thus placed on a par, as it were, with the Church and hence actual competitors for the soul of Europe.
Science had destroyed the intellectual basis of both Christianity and Judaism at the first blow; Darwin gave both sects a body blow in ‘59 so that after 1859 all was in a state of religious confusion. One consequence of the shattering of religious pretensions was that life after death was put in doubt. This loss was more than most people could bear who cherished an afterlife even if heaven had disappeared in smoke hence the efflorescence of Spiritualism which promised at least contact with the dear departed in some Great Beyond. At the same time psychology initiated by the discoveries of Dr. Anton Mesmer with the recognition of an unconscious was making inroads on ancient views of the mind. Scientists worked with Spiritualists in such organizations as the English Society For Psychical Research in the hopes of demonstrating life after death. While we today minimize the significance of Spiritualism at the time it was quite a serious matter. The writers who began their careers sometime after Darwin’s announcement of Evolution dealt with what we would call occult phenomena as a distinct scientific possibility if not probability.
Arising out of this intellectual milieu was Robert Lewis Stevenson (1850-1894). Coming aware shortly after the Origin Of Species was published he came to maturity during this important era of rapid scientific development. He captured the tone of the period magnificently in his novella Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde. While not the first split personality story, Poe had explored the idea in various stories during the 1830s and 40s, his was the story that riveted world attention then and now.
Most of us I’m sure base our ideas of the story on the 1930s’ movie which differs significantly from the book being more involved with the sexual exploits of a sadistic Edward Hyde. His other side, Henry Jekyll, was in his fifties which means he would have been born about 1830, post-Napoleonic but wholly within the reign of Queen Victoria and the height of the Empire. While something of a rake in his youth Jekyll believes he has his wild side under control but longs for his rowdy ways. He would have been about twenty-nine in ‘59 so that he is more or less au courant in scientific ideas, apparently a chemist of some merit. Employing that skill he concocts a beverage that made LSD look as weak as tea, definitely more powerful than any single malt whiskey, which not only releases him from the restraints of conventional morality but physically converts him into a monster. Thus he splits his personality in two becoming alternately Henry Jekyll or Edward Hyde. While as mild mannered as Clark Kent when Dr. Jekyll he becomes the devil incarnate as Edward Hyde. But, of course you know the story, at least the movie version. Eventually Jekyll devolves from the civilized Jekyll into the demonic Hyde permanently.
The dichotomy of Jekyll-Hyde symbolized and was probably suggested by the many dichotomies of nineteenth century society not least of which was the huge gap between the affluent and the impoverished, the educated and the brutalized, Science and Religion- Jekyll and Hyde.
The story electrified the English speaking world. Indeed two years later a real Edward Hyde stalked the East End killing women along the way. He was known as Jack The Ripper.
Perhaps at the same time in far off Chicago a thirteen year old Edgar Rice Burroughs read the book which made an indelible impression on him as we shall see.
Something that is seldom mentioned is that Europe had quite a drug problem in the nineteenth century. The opiates were quite common. Laudamun may have been the first of the opiates, apart from opium itself, which was first created by the great Paracelsus sometime in his life between 1493-1541 which went through many changes before being marketed in England as a cough depressant. In order to calm babies mothers gave them a little dollop. So, perhaps a sizable proportion of the population had known opiates from babyhood.
Morphine was reduced by Friedrich Suternus in 1804, distributed by him beginning in 1817 and marketed by Merck from 1827. It came into its own in 1857 when the hypodermic needle was invented.
By the time of Marie Corelli’s novel, Wormwood, morphine was a recreational drug for society ladies.
Heroin was synthesized in 1874 being marketed by Bayer from 1895 to the time it became a controlled substance in the second decade of the next century. Bayer originally sold Heroin as a non-addictive replacement for morphine. Missed the boat on that one. Hard to believe that mankind was so backward in recognizing addictive drugs for what they are.
Cocaine was first isolated in 1855 from which point it began its career. Perhaps its most famous user was the fictional Sherlock Holmes and his 7% solution. He made his first appearance in 1886 along with Stevenson’s and Corelli’s novels. Cocaine’s most famous pusher man was the deviser of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, who turned everyone within reach on during these same 1880s.
And while it little effect in the nineteenth century, amphetamine was isolated in 1885. Subsequently famously used by Adolf Hitler and Jack Kennedy.
In 1886 then, the thirty-one year old Marie Corelli (1855-1924) published her novel Wormwood in which morphinism took a minor role while the novel was
essentially a polemic against the use of absinthe, an alcoholic drink with apparently hallucinatory side effects while being essentially addictive. Marie Corelli while not being a household word today was one of the best selling authors in the world from 1886 to the Great War. I am newly introduced to Corelli’s work with her novel Wormwood hence can say nothing of her as a possible influence on Edgar Rice Burroughs. It isn’t obvious from Wormwood.
The relation of the novel to the split personality occurs when midway through the novel the hero, Gaston Beauvais, having been shocked out of his senses by disappointed expectations falls into a deep depression which is then abetted by his becoming an absintheur or, essentially, a drug addict thus assuming a second personality not unlike that of Henry Jekyll and Edward Hyde also caused by drugs only more dramatically.
While absinthe didn’t seem to make much of an impression in England, although Ouida in her 1867 novel, Under Two Flags, does mention its use, according to Corelli in 1886 the liqueur was devastating the manhood of France.
As this novel opens Gaston is the prosperous son of a banker for whom the future seems to be clear sailing. Gaston is the proverbial good boy who is outstandingly proper in dress and ideas. He and his father are great friends with the De Charmilles family whose daughter Pauline of eighteen years has just emerged from convent school much as Corelli had in her own life.
Gaston is charmed by the female beauty of Pauline undertaking to win her hand. Being almost a total innocent, although she does not love- i.e. have a grand passion- for Gaston, she accepts. Gaston is elated as he pins his life hopes on this whimsical girl.
Corelli, who is believed to have been a lesbian, was certainly a man hater while placing womanhood on a pedestal higher than any man ever thought of. Thus the snake in the grass arrives as the aspirant priest, Silvion Guidel. While Corelli paints Gaston as a sort of humdrum fellow, Silvion is electricity itself, every girl’s vision of passion painted in high colors.
Despite his fair exterior and the apparent virtue of his calling Silvion is the devil in disguise, a seducer and a cad. Although herself aware of the psychological ideas of the time as evidenced by her references to the contemporary psychologist Jean-Martin Charcot and Pierre Janet Corelli merely draws her picture in such a way that eschews explicit explanations leaving only inferences to the reader to interpret. For instance she casually mention Janet’s idea of the Idee Fixe with which both Pauline and Gaston are possessed but says nothing about it. Thus I am uncertain whether I am reading into the story rather than interpreting her intent.
Guidel, and this interpretation is left open, arriving from the provinces to Paris, introduced into this society quickly sizes up the situation. In his hauteur he despises the simple trust of Beauvais and more to spite him than anything else charms and seduces the lovely airhead, Pauline.
This is not enough. Gaston and Pauline’s wedding date had been set. Within a few weeks of the wedding Gaston is allowed to learn of the romance between Pauline and Guidel. Further which Pauline who has always played the virgin with Gaston we have the first hint of an inference that she is with child by Guidel.
Corelli now poses a moral dilemma in which through her character of Helisie, Pauline’s cousin, she sides with Pauline because every woman lives for a grand passion that no man can possibly understand and hence must be forgiven and forgotten. Gaston is just an average guy; he expects Silvion to step up and assume his responsibilities. He has renounced his right to be a priest and should take Pauline off his hands. Having worked his evil Guidel is satisfied. Rather than face a duel with the enraged Beauvais he flees Paris for the safety of the Church and Brittany where he immediately takes orders placing him out of reach of Beauvais’ vengeance.
Corelli does not see the betrayer and seducer of Pauline as the cad he is but she sees Gaston who has no intention of now marrying Pauline who has distributed her ‘passion’, as the ununderstanding cad. Gaston is between the proverbial rock and the hard place which seems to escape Corelli. He must choose to either marry the girl or shame her by renouncing her. Horrible position for any man but Gaston gets no pity from Corelli, not where a woman’s grand passion is involved.
As Guidel makes no appearance or communication before the wedding day Gaston exposes Pauline’s shame and denounces her at the altar. The consequences are of course horrific. All the blame falls on Gaston’s shoulders who immediately not only loses the girl but all social caste. Having had the greatest expectations of happiness he is now plunged into the deepest of depressions. As the rain pours down he rushes from the altar to find himself a place on a bench in the Champs Elysee where he sits for hours drenched to the bone in the downpour. Very symbolic. There can be no more accurate description of his absolute despondency. His personality splits, he becomes a different man as completely as Jekyll and Hyde.
As the title Wormwood indicates the novel is meant by Corelli to be a denunciation of the drinking of absinthe in France. She equates absinthe drinking as a manly vice while she equates morphinism as a female vice. Thus these two twin addictions are destroying the flower of France in her eyes. In point of fact both absinthe and morphine became controlled substances within a decade or two.
As Gaston wallows in his despondency in the downpour an impoverished artist he had helped out a few times discovers him on his bench. The devil’s helper is always at hand. This fellow in his cynical way consoles Gaston while taking him to a bistro in which he introduces the susceptible Gaston to– absinthe. Absinthe takes the place of Jekyll’s chemical concoction. The result is the same as in all drugs as all sense of social responsibility is dissolved and what remains is a pure sense of self and – anarchy. As Shelly put it:
Last came Anarchy: he rode
On a white horse, splashed with blood;
He was pale even to the lips,
Like Death in the Apocalypse.
And he wore a kingly crown;
And in his grasp a scepter shone;
On his brow this much I saw–
‘I am God and King, and Law!’
And so the course of the last half of the story is worked out as Gaston took his vengeance.
Of course there are consequences to drugs and the exaltation of self and the personation of anarchy. One loses one’s discipline and then one loses the trust of friends and family. And so Gaston neglected his responsibilities while naturally being unable to render a justification of his actions to his father. The end result is that he is cast away by his father.
But the beauteous Silvion Guidel, he of the fair face and lax morals has unleashed a train of horrors that can’t be avoided.
Pauline’s father, old De Chamilles, commits suicide- it was either that or challenge the innocent but increasingly debauched Gaston Beauvais to a duel. The shamed young thing Pauline also cast into a depression because her grand passion is balked leaves home to take up a life on the streets of Paris. Guidel having taken orders, because of his good looks is called to Rome to delight the Cardinals with his handsome presence.
This tale of degradation and woe moves rapidly on in a supremely well told fashion by Corelli. And then comes the denouement.
Gaston’s descent takes only three or four months from August to the onset of cold weather. Taking a turn through the Bois de Boulogne Gaston chances on Silvion and Pauline’s trysting place where his trust had been betrayed. There he finds Silvion who had taken unauthorized leave from his duties in Rome, in other words, he just disappeared, no one knows where he is.
Silvion, who in what he must have known was a mortal insult, asks how Pauline is. ‘You married her, didn’t you?’ Obviously his intent is to resume his liaison behind Gaston’s back. Once again Corelli lectures us on the necessity of this passionate affair before turning Gaston loose to throttle Silvion which he does to my immense satisfaction at least. I find my own moral judgments in direct opposition to those of Corelli.
Having now gratified his sense of injury on Silvion, Gaston still seeks vengeance of Pauline. She has successfully eluded all detection although Gaston has caught a couple of fleeting glimpses of her on the streets. Now, driven by the imp of the perverse, he determines to track her down. He comes across her singing for her supper on a street corner, a real Edith Piaf. By this time after several months of being an absintheur he is reduced to total anarchy. Being told that she is still in love with Silvion he goes into a grand passion of his own telling her that Silvion is dead and when she wouldn’t believe him he informs her that he murdered him with his own hands in their old trysting place.
Of course Corelli takes this opportunity to expatiate further on the grand passion every woman needs and the anarchic precedence this passion takes over everything else not unlike the absinthe or morphine. Pauline has a locket around her neck that she had worn when she and Gaston were engaged which he now discovers contains a picture of Silvion and a lock of his hair. Enough to drive a guy to any violence.
Pauline escapes his rage fleeing for that repository of souls, that which had taken Silvion’s, the Seine, and throws herself in. Good riddance of bad rubbish was my thought while Gaston was much gratified. One doesn’t have to guess Marie Corelli’s thoughts on this point in the history of a grand passion.
At that point Gaston’s anger is rectified so while the story effectively has climaxed an ending is needed. Like many a writer Corelli had her story supremely elaborated until her own psychical crisis was reached, her hysterical grand mal described by Charcot and then she has to limp along for fifty pages or so until she wraps things up. Still, the novel was a very satisfying read. Four and a half stars. If Corelli had studied her Ouida a little more she might have brought the prize home.
In all the dichotomies of the nineteenth century none split the public psyche more than that of the conflict between science and religion. Nor has the split and conflict gone away as the recent recurrence in fundamentalist Jewish, Moslem and Christian sects reveal.
Indeed all three sects have hurled themselves with full ferocity against the science of Evolution. Nothing denies religion more. Indeed Corelli opens Wormwood with a troubled discourse on science contra religion. The conflict can probably be seen in the same light as that between Paganism and Christianity at the turn of the Age of Pisces. Science at the time was viewed as more or less an evil by the majority while that majority has only lessened its opinion by somewhat today.
The conflict with science, quite frankly, is that it denies the evidence of the senses and asks us to accept as fact, not belief, what can’t be seen except perhaps by extremely sophisticated instruments. The religionists make the Scientific Consciousness relatively dangerous too. While we might not have to fear for our lives as in previous centuries, too outspoken a criticism of religion, especially Moslemism, might result in one’s head rolling toward the gutter. College professors at that time had to be very careful. They were permitted to be ‘agnostics’, that is, they didn’t deny the probability of God but were allowed to doubt it. A little concession to science. Corelli appears not to be able to deny science but is troubled by the conflict with religion.
So, this is the social malaise which Freud forty years hence would call Civilization And Its Discontented. The growing demands of Civilization that divided the old ‘natural’ life from the new ‘artificial’ life was disquieting; made people uneasy. Thus in the mother of all French Foreign Legion novels, Ouida’s Under Two Flags of 1867 that author flatly lays the problem out. Life had already grown too complex for the average person to handle.
In Under Two Flags Ouida creates two lives for her hero, Bertie Cecil; thus while his psyche remains unsplit his career requires him to assume a totally
different character. The first part showing Cecil in civilization is a superb novel on its own. Compelled, as it were, by his circumstances to seek ruin, Bertie fakes his death in a train crash then hopping the Med to Algeria he renounces his socialite life to enlist in the French Foreign Legion.
In the novel when it resumes his history Cecil has been a Legionnaire for twelve years. As the novel was published in 1867 it must have written in 1866 or perhaps if published late in 1867 possibly that year; Ouida wrote huge novels at the rate of one or two a year. Bertie must have enlisted in about 1855. The French conquered Algeria only in 1830 so that the Legion took form quickly as Bertie would very nearly be in the first draft. Ouida writes as though the Legion was ancient.
At the time of the story 1866-67 the desert had already become a vacation spot for the English, exerting an almost hypnotic attraction for them; the Garden Of Allah as the Bedouins called it. Ouida has already dissociated herself, in mind anyway, from loyalty to England and Europe. Bertie in Algeria is unresolved whether to live his exile from civilization with the Bedouins or the French. He stakes his future on the throw of the dice with a French commander; if Bertie won, to the desert; if the commander won Bertie would go to the French. Thus it is only by chance Bertie remains a European. However having once accepted the French flag, duty makes him loyal.
In his heart, and of necessity in Ouida’s, he regrets the chance that made him French. As Ouida says France was might, while the Bedouins were right. Never mind that the conquest was to remove the Barbary Pirates who had been plundering the European coast for centuries; never mind the conquest by the Arabs as far as France when the Eruption From The Desert seized European lands for Moslemism; in some curous way, the historical memory of Ouida and, indeed, the West, was obliterated. Not only are the Bedouins in the right but they live as Man ought to live, the ‘natural’ man some might say, the primitive, the good life. For myself I would find the social organization of the natural life far too oppressive, the social organization of Civilization suits me fine and the key term here is social organization, one is always under some social discipline and in the primitive one it is as a slave of the chief. Not for me.
Thus in the evolutionary process Western man is still too in touch with his primitive mind to feel comfortable with the new social demands of Western Civilization. So we have this Western love affair so in evidence during this period with a romantic, if false, appreciation of natural life in association with the desert- The Garden Of Allah as in Robert Hitchens’ novel of that name.
Now, while the authors of the central period of the Great Century were mostly born at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the new crop of writers beginning in the eighties were mostly born mid-century coming to maturity after Science had become fairly developed, certainly after Darwin. Mostly they lived past 1900 when technology changed the whole direction of society virtually creating a whole new civilization. One might say the new civilization was a cause of the Great War.
As time moves along change is ever present. So we have Edgar Rice Burroughs who emerged as an author in 1912 some few years out of the nineteenth century although he was born in 1875 so he was familiar with that horse and buggy era. The mind set of those writers beginning in the eighties endured from that period to the Great War which put a period to the mind set which in any event was changing rapidly. There was a new mind set after the Great War.
As Burroughs was born on an average, perhaps, of twenty years after the group of authors, he was not a competitor for honors with them but what one might call a synthesizer of the whole body of ideas. Thus until after 1920 when his mind evolved into the new mindset he was a Jr. Member of the set. He shared the mind set of his seniors. To properly understand Burroughs then up to 1920 one must be ware of the problems his older contemporaries were addressing while Burroughs addressed all the problems offering what he believed were conclusive solutions. At the same time he wrote books in all of the new developing genres.
He found the desert romance particularly attractive as he wrote The Return Of Tarzan, partially desert romance, The Lad And The Lion, full desert romance, and Son Of Tarzan, significantly desert romance; in addition the last several Tarzans took place in Ethiopia while in several novels Arabs make slave forays into the South from the North.
The question here is did he read Ouida’s Under Two Flags? I haven’t found an absolutely clear pointer but in Return of Tarzan, the novel begins in Civilization in Paris corresponding the first part of Under Two Flags while Tarzan obtains an appointment as a French secret agent to travel to Algeria which would be equivalent to the Foreign Legion.
Burroughs doesn’t mention the Foreign Legion until his ambiguously titled WWII novel Tarzan And The Foreign Legion in which the Foreign Legion is a group of people Tarzan gathered around himself in Sumatra.
If Burroughs did read Ouida, which wouldn’t be unlikely, then it is quite possible that her Bertie Cecil was one of the inspirations for Tarzan, although in reverse. Ouida like Marie Corelli makes her hero extremely feminine often describing him as womanly with womanly attributes, very nurturing or motherly. He is consequently tender hearted about the enemy while being motherly and concerned for his fellow legionnaires in a manner that would have brought scorn on him in any military organization, but according to Ouida made him much beloved, a saintly figure. Quite a warrior in the field though.
Tarzan on the contrary is never tender; he spares no foe, gleefully, almost taking sadistic pleasure in dispatching his foes in what are often near pre-emptive strikes. There is a large measure of sadism in the Jungle Joker humor in which he delights in tormenting his victims, unless he merely rips their heads off. In many ways then Tarzan is Bertie Cecil turned inside out. Of course Tarzan’s thin veneer of civilization runs no deeper than his clothes and when he takes those off he reverts to pure beast. Tarzan does not equivocate.
Burroughs as he often says was fascinated by the notion of dual personality. While he couldn’t have been influenced by the movie Jekyll and Hyde, Stevensons’ book made a profound impression on his mind. As he said, he believed that all men were two people although maybe not as pronounced as Jekyll and Hyde but he does appear to believe that Jekyll and Hydes could be found in numbers. How pronounced his own disunion was he doesn’t say but a conception of Burruoughs the Night Stalker isn’t difficult to form.
Jekyll and Hyde and the two sides of Corelli’s Gaston Beauvais were chemically induced but Burroughs uses another device when he split’s the personality of Tarzan. In Tarzan’s case the roof usually falls on his head giving him amnesia when he rises as another man. Like Jekyll and Hyde usually Burroughs provides a physical duplicate so that two Tarzan twins, Burroughs even wrote a children’s story the Tarzan Twins, are wandering around one of which is doing things injurious to Tarzan’s reputation; a reflection perhaps on the problems Edward Hyde caused Henry Jekyll.
Thus in Tarzan and the Golden Lion and Tarzan and the Ant Men the Tarzan lookalike Esteban Miranda defames Tarzan by using the steel tipped arrows found in children’s archery sets.
In Tarzan and the Lion Man a movie actor impersonates Tarzan giving the real Big Guy headaches. In Tarzan Triumphant Tarzan himself impersonates a dandy named Lord Passmore. Perhaps an indication of the post-divorce Burroughs. It is interesting the psychological stress resulting in the splitting occurs around Burroughs sexual problems.
Throughout his work, especially to 1920, then, Burroughs recapitulates the themes of his elders of the late nineteenth century, more especially he concerns himself with the problem of split or dual personality. This theme would be further explored by writers following in his footstep beginning in 1920 when his own influence began to be felt.
The New Era as the period of prosperity that began a couple years after the War and ended with the crash of ‘29 was known while seemingly a radical departure from the Victorian and Edwardian periods quite naturally took its origins from that recent past but many of the themes that Burroughs as the last of his era was exploring lost some of their significance or perhaps were transformed by the really incredible advances in science and technology of the first two decades of the century. The addition of Prohibition and the vote for women as the decade began also threw an entirely different cast over the period.
Not one of the least influential changes in the period was the influence of the success as a writer of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Between 1920 and 1940 Tarzan, himself, transformed by the talkies, had become more than a household word, indeed, he was a cultural artefact, one might say the grounding of the New, or Wold Newton, Mythology.
I don’t believe there was any writer working in the period who was not familiar with Burroughs’ writing and in some way influenced by it, not excluding the Man of Steel, Stalin himself. War was declared on Burroughs by the Germans in the first half of the third decade resulting in the banishment of his books from the Weimar Republic. Sic transit gloria.
Burroughs continued to turn out his volumes throughout the period referring frequently to the dual personality. Through his works, but not exclusively, the dual personality became a pervasive trope. A suggestion that one picked up subconsciously.
So many literary characters were doubles that one began to think of oneself as two people. Perhaps the most influential of the new crop was the playboy Lamont Cranston who may or may not have been himself during the day and the Shadow by night. Actually since Cranston was out of the country almost continuously he lent his identity to The Shadow, or so we are told. Figure that one out; how to be in two places at once. Most of we younger people were only familiar with the radio Shadow although the writer Maxwell Grant or, in his true identity, possibly, the magician, Walter Gibson wrote over three hundred titles for those with multiple idle moments to mull over and with a fondness for the trivial. Some historical interesting stuff though.
Doc Savage split his personality into five parts with his wrecking crew of paramilitary soldats. Savage would be recapitulated by Steve Rogers and his alter ego Captain America with his merry band of five. Capt. America arrived as comic book literature preceded by the first of the comic book double personalities, Superman, and his daytime identity, Clark Kent
The most spectacular of the dual personalities, those who I base my double on, were Capt. Marvel and Billy Batson. One event yet more dual than this. Billy Batson was a little crippled newsboy, just my age at the time, or seemingly so, who was inducted into the superhero Hall Of Fame.
Billy, a little orphan boy like me was out at midnight peddling his Gospel News when a mysterious stranger, not unlike the Shadow, asked the poor but honest lad: ‘Why aren’t you home in bed, son?’ Billy replied: ‘I have no home, sir. I sleep in the subway station, it’s warm there.’ Wasn’t too hard for me to identify with that.
The Mysterious Stranger or hand of fate points and says: ‘Follow me!’ Down in the subway he means. Billy being no fool asks: ‘Where are we going.’ Easily satisfied he receives the answer: ‘Wait and see.’
Suddenly a strange subway car, with headlights glaring like a dragon’s eyes, roars into the station, stops. No one is driving it. The MS intones: ‘Have no fear everything has been arranged.’
Oh, everything has been arranged. Every little crippled orphans’ dream.
The train drops them off into a cavern displaying the seven deadly sins. A propitious beginning. Believe me, this was close to reality for an eight year old kid, like me. The MS takes Billy and introduces him to this grey beard in a long white flowing robe. This is a guy with the unlikely name of Shazam but a guy everyone would want to meet.
Shazam was all virtue, been fighting injustice and cruelty all his very long life but without much success. He explains his name to Billy. The S stood for the wisdom of Solomon; H for the strength of Herecules; A for the stamina of Atlas (I could never remember that one, I knew what stamina meant too); Z for the all powerful mind of Zeus; A for the courage of Achilles (wasn’t sure who he was); and M for the speed of Mercury.
Shazam tells little Billy Batson:
All my life I have fought injustice and cruelty. But I am old now- my time is almost up. You shall be my successor. Merely by speaking my name you can become the strongest and mightiest man in the world- Captain Marvel! Speak my name.’
Billy does and boy! Talk about split personalities, the little crippled orphan becomes the strongest man in the world giving Superman and Clark Kent some mean competition which is why DC Comics sued him out of existence.
I already had the split personality at eight, and how, so I used to sit around shouting Shazam over and over waiting for the lightning flash that never came. There’s always just been me two, although I did get up to five for a while but now I have returned to one and have to be satisfied with myself. It isn’t easy being single when you’ve been double for so long. No one to talk to. But me? I take it easy, play it as it lays. Always have, always will. For the next couple years anyway, maybe, until I keep my appointment with the Grim Reaper. As the saying goes: My days are numbered.
As Eddie Burroughs believed that every person has a second self I suppose it may be true, at least Western Man; perhaps not as extreme as Jekyll and Hyde or Billy Batson and Capt. Marvel but a psychological phenomenon created both by evolution and the dichotomies created by the conflicts of the nineteenth century as well perhaps as the multiple conflicts of this global, multi-cultural world.
Say goodnight Ed I, Ed II, Ed III, ED IV and Ed V. Goodnight all.