November 25, 2009
A Contribution To The
ERBzine ERB Library Project
H. Rider Haggard
Review by R.E. Prindle
The Gruesome, The Morbid AndThe Hideous
Rider Haggard was criticized severely by certain of his contemporaries for employing so many gruesome, morbid and hideous details. Indeed, ’ She’ seems to be a study in the hideous, the gruesome and the morbid. If one concentrates on those aspects of the story one might actually question Haggard’s mental health.
Haggard himself calls attention to this morbidity. In King Solomon’s Mines he pointed out his humor with references to the Ingoldsby Legends; in She he makes a pointed reference to a Mark Tapley. I had no idea who Mark Tapley might be but thought I’d consult that most magnificent of encyclopedias, the internet. No problem. Mark Tapley was a character from Charles Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit. No matter how adverse the circumstances were Tapley was always cheerful and ebullient. Haggard must have thought him ridiculous. Thus he is devising a series of incidents that would bring even Mark Tapley down. Hmm. Interesting experiment.
It would seem then that Haggard was suffering from a fairly deep depression. In that sense She is sort of a horror story not too different in intent than, say, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Indeed, at one point Ayesha explains that she rules by terror. That being the most effective way to control brutes like the Amahagger.
Certainly the storm at sea prior to entering Kor was an example of terror on the part of nature, a portent of things to come. Not least of these was the hot potting and projected cannibalism of the surviving member of the ship’s crew, Mohammed. ‘She’ had only required the safety of the Whites; as Mohammed was apparently a negrified Arab the Amahagger excluded him from the ban on Whites. An interesting example of White Skin privilege.
Their custom of killing their victims was to heat a pot red hot and turn it over on the victim’s head. There’s a gruesome and hideous enough example. You can see where Burroughs picked up his fascination for the gruesome and hideous.
The Caves of Kor are actually a city of the dead. Kor was an active civilization before Egypt existed in the fifth or sixth millennium BC. As embalming was a known practice when the Dynasties began c. 3400 the practice must have developed long before. Quite possibly it was practiced by the peoples of the Basin before the Mediterranean was flooded. In The World’s Desire Haggard mentions that the ancient Egyptians possessed writings in a precedent language. If so, how far back things like embalming go might be prodigious.
Egyptian embalming was primitive compared to that of the Korians. While Egyptian mummies became desicated the Korian process was such that the body was preserved forever in an apparent state of health. Thus bodies perhaps ten thousand years old or older had the appearance of freshness.
Now, this is positively creepy. Holly’s Amahagger attendent Bilalli while discussing Korian embalming told Holly that while he was a young man a particularly beautiful female corpse occupied the very slab on which Holly slept. Bilalli used to enter the cell and sit looking admiringly on the beautiful corpse by the hour. One day his mother caught him at it. The embalming fluid used was extremely flammable. Bilalli’s mother stood the body up and lit it. Like a huge torch the body burned down to the feet. The feet were still as good as new. Bilalli wrapped them and stored them beneath Holly’s slab. Groping around beneath the slab he brought out those ten thousand year old feet, still fresh, except for some charring at the ankles.
Haggard doesn’t stop there but goes on to emphasize the beauty of one particular foot. One wonders if perhaps George Du Maurier read She becoming entranced by the foot image thus reproducing the image in his novel Trilby when Little Billee draws Trilby’s beautiful foot on th wall. It is a thing Du Maurier would do as he inserted his literary baggage as profusely as Burroughs.
What effect this image had on Haggard’s contemporary readers may be guessed from the complaints about his gruesomeness.
In fact Haggard projects a depressed brooding evil permeating the Caves of Kor very well. This may have been caused by his and Lang’s theories of the Matriarchy. Human sacrifice was an integral part of the Matriarchal world. The sacrifices were invariably of men because women had greater economic value. When men were no longer sacrificed bulls, rams, the males of the species were substituted, the female still having greater economic value. Thus the story of Isaac and the Ram. That would be a great advance in civilization. About that time Isis ceased being the Egyptian symbol of the firmament being replaced by the female cow as the symbol of economics. Something like the kings of England sitting on the woolsack.
Depending on Haggard’s and Lang’s theories of the Matriarchy then Haggard may have been portraying a consciousness that has ceased to exist. There is always an element of misogyny in Haggard’s stories that is no longer tolerated. Then men were men and women were women instead of the attempted strange unisexuality of today. Thus the tens of miles of swamp between the Amahagger quarters and the citadel of Kor indicate the extent and quality of the Matriarchy. Swamps are the symbol of the female and the Matriarchy or, in other words, this very primitive superstitious consciousness.
The Korian swamp was haunted by mephitic vapors, evil smelling and oppressive. The ground they walked on was of uncertain solidity; it might look firm but this was only illusory as one could break through the crust. Often the litter bearers were walking through evil smelling muck up to their knees.
At one point an accident occurs and Bilalli’s litter with him in it is dumped into the slimy water. He would have drowned if Holly hadn’t leaped into the rank female waters to save him. They emerge looking something like the creature from the Black Lagoon.
It will be remembered that Holly was something of a misogynist. One may be stretching a point but even though rejecting women and marriage Holly managed to inherit a son from a man who was also a womanless widower. Haggard makes a strong contrasting point when he says that Leo was not averse to female company. The manservant, Job, is absolutely terrified of the female.
After traversing this desolate swamp of the female for days they arrive at the citadel or temple of Kor. Now, the citadel of Kor was built on an ancient lake bed that had been drained ten thousand years before. In that sense Ayesha is the same as Nimue or the Lady Of The Lake of King Arthur. Nemue lived at the bottom of a lake where she raised Lanclot who consequently was called Lancelot of the Lake.
Compare this also with Haggard’s postumously published Treasure of the Lake in which the Anima figure lives on an island in the middle of a lake in the middle of a volcanic crater. The lake of Kor was also in the middle of a crater.
When the Korian civilization was extinguished it wasn’t by invasion or other external reasons but by a monster plague something like the fourteenth century european Black Death that wiped out nearly everyone. At the resulting rate of death it wasn’t possible to embalm everyone so that tens of thousands of bodies were dumped into a huge subterranean pit.
In conducting Holly and Leo on a guided tour of Kor which was one gigantic necropolis, talk about depressing, Ayesha brings them to this pit. I quote:
Accordingly I followed (She) to a side passage opening out of the main cave, then down a great number of steps, and along an underground shaft that cannot have been less than sixty feet beneath the surface of the rock, and was ventilated by curious borings that ran upward, I do not know where. Suddenly this passage ended, and Ayesha halted, bidding the mutes return, and, as she prophesied, I saw a scene such as I was not likely to behold again. We were standing in an enormous pit, or rather on the brink of it, for it went down deeper- I do not know how much- than the level on which we stood, and was edged in with a low wall of rock. So far as I could judge, this was about the size of the space beneath the dome of St. Paul’s in London, and when the lamps were held up I saw that it was nothing but one vast charnel-house, being literally fullof thousands of human skeletons, which lay piled up in an enormous gleaming pyramid, formed by the slipping down of the bodies at the apex as others were dropped in from above. Anything more appalling than this mass of human remains of a departed race I cannot imagine, and what made it even more dreadful was that in this dry air a considerable number of bodies had become dessicated with the skin still on them, and now, fixed in every conceivable position, stared at us out of a mountain of white bones, grotesquely horrible caricatures of humanity. In my astonishment I uttered an ejaculation, and the echoes of my voice, ringing in that vaulted space, disturbed a skull which hd been accurately balanced for many thousands of years near the apex of the pile. Down it came with a run, bounding along merrily towards us, and of course bringing an avalanche of other bones after it, till at last the whole pit rattled with their movement, even as though the skeletons were rising up to greet us.
Talk about a holocaust! Imagine standing in that dimly lit space far beneath ground, in the grave itself so to speak,and viewing that. Holly was overcome and perhap Mark Tapley himself would have lost a little of his cheeriness. If that didn’t do it the ball Ayesha threw would have.
Before I move on to that though let’s take a penultimate example that might actually unsettle Mark Tapley. This is truly unsettling with truly macabre and voyeuristic soft porn details that are quite remarkable. Let me say that it is only with the fourth reading that the horrific nature of these details really began to sink in. I hope to really make this clear in the next section in which I intend to do an in depth analysis of Ayesha.
In his cell at the citadel of Kor Holly notices a cleft in the wall he hadn’t noticed before. This cleft is going to lead him to Ayesha’s sleeping room. This is not unlike King Solomon’s Mines in which upon entering the symbolic vagina they were led to the womb or treasure box. As I say Holly entered this cleft, let your imagination dwell on that, and followed a dark, dank, narrow corridor until he perceived a light.
He is looking into Ayesha’s sleeping room where in a certain deshabille, very erotic, she is addressing a covered form on a bier next to hers. This is the embalmed body of Kallicrates who she murdered twenty-two hundred years before. So she has been sleeping with this corpse for twenty-two centuries. Now, dwell on that for moment, let the horror of it sink in.
She addresses the corpse in a fairly demented way. Twenty-two hundred years of this would drive anybody nuts. Finally to the dismay of Holly she animates the body by telekinetic powers actually causing it to stand zombie like so she can kiss and caress it. A lot of necrophilia in this novel. Haggard must have been half dotty when he wrote this. Of course Kallicrates is a double of Leo so Holly has all he can do to keep from crying out. Causing the dead man to lay himself down Ayesha covers him and blows out the light.
Holly has to find his way back in the dark reminding one of innumerable passages in Burroughs where his characters have to find their way in the dark. Holly gets only so far and collapses in the tunnel. Waking he sees a light coming in from his cell allowing him to find his way back.
And then Ayesha throws her ball. If you’ve read carefully and really ingested these macabre, gruesome, and as Burroughs’ would say, hideous details they’re beginning to oppress your mind, perhaps even a mind like Mark Tapley’s.
Now Haggard trundles out the frosting. To illuminate her ball Ayesha brings out piles of ten thousand year old corpses placing them around the perimeter as human torches. Laying out a large bonfire the corpses are stacked alternately like so much cordwood and replaced as they were consumed. Remember these are as fresh looking as you or I. The Roman emperor Nero actually used live humans in the same manner. Haggard notes this in the text which I thought weakened the effect.
Ayesha seems to be aware of the effect, indeed, intended it and appears to relish the reaction.
These are the high points of these horrfic details. Minor ones are constant so that the cumulative effect leading up to the terrific images of the demise of Ayesha, temporary though it might be, is overwhelming. But about She, Ayesha, in the next part.
May 8, 2009
The Novels Of George Du Maurier
Peter Ibbetson, Trilby, The Martian
Singers and Dancers and Fine Romancers
What do they know?
What do they know?
Review by R.E. Prindle
Table of Contents
II Review of Trilby
III. Review of The Martian
IV. Review of Peter Ibbetson
Peter Ibbetson is the first of the three novels of George Du Maurier. As elements of the later two novels are contained in embryo in Ibbetson it would seem that Du Maurier had the three novels at least crudely plotted while a fourth dealing with politics but never realized is hinted at. Actually Du Maurier has Ibbetson who writes this ‘autobiography’ write several world changing novels from inside the insane asylum to which he had been committed. In the Martian Barty Josselin wrote several world changing books while ‘possessed’ by an alien intelligence, in a way, not too dissimilar to the situation of Ibbetson. Du Maurier himself comes across, as I have said, as either a half demented lunatic or a stone genius.
He has Ibbetson and the heroine, The Duchess of Towers write in code while they read encrypted books. Du Maurier says that Ibbetson and hence the two following books deal with weighty subjects but in a coded manner that requires attention to understand.
On page 362 of the Modern Library edition he says:
…but more expecially in order to impress you, oh reader, with the full significance of this apocalyptic and somewhat minatory utterance (that may haunt your fever sense during your midnight hours of introspective self-communion), I have done my best, my very best to couch it in the obscurest and most unitelligible phraseology, I could invent. If I have failed to do this, if I have unintentionally made any part of my meaning clear, if I have once deviated by mistake into what might almost appear like sense, mere common-sense- it is the fault of my half French and wholly imperfect education.
So, as Bob Dylan said of the audiences of his Christian tour: Those who were meant to get it, got it, for all others the story is merely a pretty story or perhaps fairy tale. The fairy tale motif is prominent in the form of the fee Tarapatapoum and Prince Charming of the story. Mary, the Duchess of Towers is Tarapatapoum and Peter is Prince Charming. It might be appropriate here to mention that Du Maurier was highly influenced by Charles Nodier the teller of fairy tales of the Romantic period. Interestingly Nodier wrote a story called Trilby. Du Maurier borrowed the name for his novel Trilby while he took the name Little Billee from a poem by Thackeray. A little background that makes that story a little more intelligible.
Those that watch for certain phobias such as anti-Semitism and Eugenics will find this story of Du Maurier’s spolied for them as was Trilby and probably The Martian. One is forced to concede that Du Maurier deals with those problems in a coded way. Whether his meaning is derogatory or not lies with your perception of the problems not with his.
Thus on page 361 just above the previous quote Du Maurier steps from concealment to deliver a fairly open mention of Eugenics. After warning those with qualities and attributes to perpetuate those qualities by marrying wisely, i.e. eugenically, he breaks out with this:
Wherefore, also, beware and be warned in time, ye tenth transmitters of a foolish face, ye reckless begetters of diseased or puny bodies, with hearts and brains to match! Far down the corridors of time shall clubfooted retribution follow in your footsteps, and overtake you at every turn.
Here we have a premonition of Lothrop Stoddards Overman and Underman. The best multiply slowly while the worst rear large families. Why anyone would find fault with the natural inclination to marry well if one’s handsome and intelligent with a similar person is beyond me. Not only is this natural it has little to do with the Eugenics Movement. Where Eugenics falls foul, and rightly so, is in the laws passed to castrate those someone/whoever deemed unworthy to reproduce. This is where the fault of the Eugenics Movement lies. Who is worthy to pass such judgment? Certainly there are obvious cases where neutering would be appropriate and beneficial for society but in my home town, for instance, no different than yours I’m sure, the elite given the opportunity would have had people neutered out of enmity and vindictiveness. that is where the danger lies. There is nothing wrong with handsome and intelligent marrying handsome and intelligent. How may people want a stupid, ugly partner?
Du Maurier had other opinions that have proved more dangerous to society. One was his belief in the virtues of Bohemians, that is say, singers and dancers and fine romancers. On page 284 he says:
There is another society in London and elsewhere, a freemasonry of intellect and culture and hard work- la haute Ashene du talent- men and women whose names are or ought to be household words all over the world; many of them are good friends of ine, both here and abroad; and that society, which was good enough for my mother and father, is quite good enough for me.
Of course, the upper Bohemia of proven talent. But still singers and dancers and fine romancers. And what do they know? Trilby was of the upper Bohemia as was Svengali but Trilby was hypnotized and Svengali but a talented criminal. What can a painter contribute but a pretty picture, what can a singer do but sing his song, I can’t think of the dancing Isadora Duncan or the woman without breaking into laughter. And as for fine romancers, what evil hath Jack Kerouac wrought.
I passed part of my younger years in Bohemia, Beat or Hippie circles, and sincerely regret that Bohemian attitudes have been accepted as the norm for society. Bohemia is fine for Bohemians but fatal for society which requires more discipline and stability. Singers and dancers and fine romancers, wonderful people in their own way, but not builders of empires.
In that sense, the promotion of Bohemianism, Du Maurier was subversive.
But the rules of romancing are in the romance and we’re talking about Du Maurier’s romance of Peter Ibbetson.
Many of the reasons for criticizing Du Maurier are political. The man whether opposed to C0mmunist doctrine or not adimired the Bourgeois State. He admired Louis-Philippe as the Beourgeois king of France. This may sound odd as he also considered himself a Bohemian but then Bohemians are called into existence by a reaction to the Bourgeoisie. Perhaps not so odd. He was able to reconcile such contradictions. Indeed he is accused of having a split personality although I think this is false. Having grown up in both France and England he developed a dual national identity and his problem seems to be reconciling his French identity with his English identity thus his concentration on memory.
In this novel he carefully builds up a set of sacred memories of his childhood. He very carefully introduces us to the people of his childhood. Mimsy Seraskier his little childhood sweetheart. All the sights and sounds and smells. In light of the quote I used telling how he disguises his deeper meaning one has to believe that he is giving us serious theories he has worked out from science and philosophy.
Having recreated his French life for us Peter’s parents die and Ibbetson’s Uncle Ibbetson from England adopts him and takes him back to the Sceptered Isle. Thus he ceases to be the French child Pasquier and becomes the English child Peter Ibbetson. A rather clean and complete break. From this point on his childhood expectations are disappointed with the usual psychological results. He develops a depressed psychology. The cultural displacement prevents him from making friends easily or at all. His Uncle who has a difficult boorish personality is unable to relate to a sensitive boy with a Bohemian artistic temperament. Hence he constantly demeans the boy for not being like himself and has no use for him.
This is all very skillfully handled. We have intimations that bode no good for Peter. The spectre is prison. The hint of a crime enters into the story without anything actually being said. But the sense of foreboding enters Peter’s mind and hence the reader’s. This is done extremely well. It’s a shame the Communists are in control of the media so that they can successfully denigrate any work of art that contradicts or ignores their beliefs. For instance the term bourgeois itself. The word is used universally as a contemptuous epithet even though the Bourgeois State was one of the finest created. Why then contempt? Simply because the Communists must destroy or denigrate any success that they canot hope to surpass. I was raised believing that what was Bourgeois was contemptible without ever knowing what Bourgeois actually meant. It is only through Du Maurier at this late stage in life that I begin to realize what the argument really was and how I came to accept the Communist characterization. I’m ashamed of myself.
Hence all Du Maurier criticism is unjust being simply because it is the antithesis of Communist beliefs. The man as a writer is very skillful, as I have said, a genius. If I were read these novels another couple of times who knows what riches might float up from the pages.
Colonel Ibbetson apprentices Peter to an architect, a Mr Lintot, which, while not unhappy, is well below Peter’s expectations for his fairy Prince Charming self. As a lowly architect he is placed in a position of designing huts for the workers of the very wealthy. The contrast depresses him even further. He has been disappointed in love and friendship and then he is compelled by business exigencies to attend a ball given by a wealthy client. He definitely feels out of place. Psychologically incapable of mixing he stands in a corner.
At this ball the most beautiful woman he has ever seen, The Duchess of Towers, is in attendance. From across the room she seems to give him an interested glance. Peter can only hope, hopelessly. As a reader we have an intimation that something will happen but we can’t be sure how. I couldn’t see. Then he sees her in her carriage parading Rotten Row in Hyde Park. She sees him and once again it seems that she gives him a questioning look.
Then he takes a vacation in France where he encounter her again. After talking for a while he discovers that she is a grown up Mimsey Seraskier, his childhood sweetheart. Thus his French childhood and English adulthood are reunited in her. Wow! There was a surprise the reader should have seen coming. I didn’t. I had no trouble recognizing her from childhood in France but Du Maurier has handled this so skillfully that I am as surprised as was Peter. I tipped my imaginary hat to Du Maurier here.
Perhaps I entered into Du Maurier’s dream world here but now I began to have flashbacks, a notion that I had read this long ago, most likely in high school or some other phantasy existence. I can’t shake the notion but I can’t remember reading the book then at all. Don’t know where I might have come across it. Of course that doesn’t mean an awful lot. If asked if I had ever read a Charles King novel I would have said no but when George McWhorter loaned me a couple to read that he had in Louisville I realized I had read one of them before. Eighth grade. I could put a handle on that but not Peter Ibbetson. Perhaps Du Marurier has hypnotized me. Anyway certain images seem to stick in my mind from a distant past.
It was at this time that Mary, the Duchess if Towers, formerly Mimsy, enters Peter’s dream, in an actual real life way. This is all well done, Peter dreamt he was walking toward an arch when two gnomish people tried to herd him into prison. Mary appears and orders the gnomes to vanish which they do. ‘That’s how you have to handle that.’ She says. And that is very good advice for dreams that Du Maurier gives. As we’ll see Du Maurier has some pretensions to be a psychologist.
She then instructs Peter in the process of ‘dreaming true.’ In such a manner they can actually be together for real in a shared dream. Now, Trilby, while seemingly frivolous, actually displays a good knowledge of hypnotism. More than that it puts Du Maurier in the van of certain psychological knowledge. Hypnotism and psychology go together. Without an understanding of hypnotism one can’t be a good psychologist. If he wasn’t ahead of Freud at this time he was certainly even with him. Remember this is 1891 while Freud didnt’ surface until 1895 and then few would have learned of him. He wrote in German anyway.
Freud was never too developed on auto-suggestion. Emile Coue is usually attributed to be the originator of auto-suggestion yet the technique that Mary gives to Peter is the exact idea of auto-suggestion that Coue is said to have developed twenty or twenty-five years on.
Du Maurier speaks of the sub-conscious which is more correct than the unconscious. He misunderstands the nature of the subconscious giving it almost divine powers but in many ways he is ahead of the game. Now, Ibbetson was published in 1891 which means that Du Maurier was in possession of his knowledge no later than say 1889 while working on it from perhaps 1880 or so on. It will be remembered that Lou Sweetser, Edgar Rice Burroughs mentor in Idaho, was also knowledgable in psychology in 1891 but having just graduated a couple of years earlier from Yale. So Freud is very probably given too much credit for originating what was actually going around. This earlier development of which Du Maurier was part has either been suppressed in Freud’s favor or has been passed over by all psychological historians.
So, Mary gives Peter psychologically accurate information on auto-suggestion so that he can ‘dream true.’ I don’t mean to say that anyone can share another’s dreams which is just about a step too far but by auto-suggestion one can direct and control one’s dreams. Auto-suggestion goes way back anyway. The Poimandre of Hermes c. 300 AD is an actual course in auto-suggestion.
Peter is becoming more mentally disturbed now that his denied expectations have returned to haunt him in the person of Tarapatapoum/Mimsey/Mary. Once again this is masterfully done. The clouding of his mind is almost visible. Over the years he has generated a deep seated hatred for Colonel Ibbetson even though the Colonel, given his lights, has done relatively well by him. Much of Peter’s discontent is internally generated by his disappointed expectations. The Colonel has hinted that he might be Peter’s father rather than his Uncle. This completely outrages Peter’s cherished understanding of his mother and father. The Colonel according to Peter was one of those guys who claimed to have made every woman he’d ever met. One must bear in mind that Peter is telling the story while the reader is seeing him become increasingly unstable.
While Peter doesn’t admit it to himself he confronts the Colonel with the intention of murdering him. He claims self-defense but the court doesn’t believe it nor does the reader. It’s quite clear the guy was psycho but, once again, Du Maurier handles this so skillfully that one still wonders. Given the death penalty his friends and supporters, the influential Duchess of Towers, get the sentence commuted to life imprisonment.
Then begins Peter’s double life in prison that goes on for twenty years. By day a convict, at night Peter projects hemself into a luxurious dream existence with his love, Mary, the Duchess of Towers. Quite insane but he has now realized his expections if only in fantasy. Now, this novel as well as Du Maurier’s other novels is textually rich. The style is dense while as Du Maurier tells us it is written in more than one key, has encoded messages, so I’m concentrating on only the main thread here. That concerns memory.
While it is possible to subconsciously manage one’s dreams, I do it to a minor extent, of course it is impossible for two people to dream toether and share that dream. This is to venture into the supernatural. Spiritualism and Theosophy both dealing with the supernatural as does all religion including Christianity, were at their peak at this time. Du Maurier has obviously studied them. Just because one utilizes one’s knowledge in certain ways to tell a story doesn’t mean one believes what one writes. Ibbetson is written so well that the writer seems to have fused himself with the character. If I say Du Maurier believes that may not be true but as the same themes are carried through all his novels without a demurrer it seems likely.
Du Maurier seems to be pleading a certain understanding of the subconscious giving it as many or more supernatural powers as Freud himself will later. This might be the appropriate place to speculate on Du Maurier’s influence on Mark Twain. We know Twain was an influence on Burroughs so perhaps both were.
Before he died Twain wrote a book titled the Mysterious Stranger. This was twenty-five years after Peter Ibbetson. Operator 44, the Mysterious Stranger, is a time time traveler who has some sort of backstair connecting years as a sort of memory monitor. Peter and Mary over the years work out a system that allows them to travel back through times even to prehistoric times. Thus Peter is able to sketch from life stone age man hunting mastodons, or Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo. They are present at these events but as sort of ghost presences without substance. they have no substance hence cannot affect reality.
This would be a major them in fifties science fiction in which, for instance, a time traveler steps on a grub, then comes back to his present time finding everyone talking a different language. Change one item and you change all others. Du Maurier avoids this problem that he very likely thought of in this clever way.
We can clearly see the future of twentieth century imaginiative writing taking form here. One can probably trace several twentieth century sci-fi themes back to Du Maurier.
Peter and Mary have a magic window through they can call up any scene within their memories. In their dream existence they are dependent on memory they can only re-experience, they cannot generate new experiences. The memory extends back genetically although Du Maurier speaks in terms of reincarnation. Peter hears Mary humming a tune he has never heard before. Mary explains that the tune is a family melody written by an ancestress hundreds of years before. Thus one has this genetic memory persisting through generations. This gives Du Maurier room to expatiate on the persistence of memory through past, present and future.
Du Maurier has worked out an elaborate scheme in which memory unites past, present and future, into a form of immortality. This is actually a religious concept but a very beautiful concept, very attractive in its way.
Peter and Mary had elected to stay at one age- twenty-six to twenty-eight- so for twenty years they retained their youthful form and beauty. Then one night Peter enters the mansion of his dreams through a lumber room to find the way blocked. He knows immediately that Mary has died. He then learns that in attempting to save a child from a train she was herself killed.
Peter goes into an insane rage attacking the prison guards while calling each Colonel Ibbetson. Clearly insane and that’s where the send him. The mad house. Originally he continues to rage so they put him in a straight jacket where he remains until his mind calms enough to allow him to dream. In his dream he returns to a stream in France. Here he believes he can commit suicide in his dream which should be shock enough to stop his heart in real life. Something worth thinking about. Filling his pockets with stones he means to walk in over his head. Then, just ahead he spies the back of a woman sitting on a log. Who else but Mary. She has done what has never been done before, what even Houdini hasn’t been able to do, make it to back to this side.
Now outside their mansion, they are no longer young, but show their age. This is nicely done stuff. Of course I can’t replicate the atmosphere and feel but the Du Maurier feeling is ethereal. As I say I thought he was talking to me and I entered his fantasy without reserve.
Here’s a lot of chat about the happiness on the otherside. When Peter awakes back in the asylum he is calm and sane. He convinces the doctors and is restored to full inmate rights. Once himself again he begins to write those wonderful books that right the world.
One gets the impression that Du Maurier believes he himself is writing those immortal books that will change the world. Time and fashions change. Today he is thought a semi-evil anti- Semite, right wing Bourgeois writer. I don’t know if he’s banned from college reading lists but I’m sure his works are not used in the curriculum. I think he’s probably considered oneof those Dead White Men. Thus a great writer becomes irrelevant.
It’s a pity because from Peter Ibbetson through Trilby to The Martian he has a lot to offer. The Three States of Mind he records are thrilling in themselves, as Burroughs would say, as pure entertainment while on a more thoughtful read there is plenty of nourishment. Taken to another level his psychology is very penetrating. His thought is part of the mind of the times. Rider Haggard shares some of the mystical qualities. The World’s Desire is comparable which can be complemented by his Heart Of The World. The latter may turn out to be prophetic shortly. H.G. Wells’ In The Days Of The Comet fits into this genre also. Another very good book. Of course Burroughs’ The Eternal Lover and Kipling and Haggard’s collaboration of Love Eternal. Kipling’s Finest Story In The World might also fit in as well, I’m sure there are many others of the period of which I’m not aware. I haven’t read Marie Corelli but she is often mentioned in this context. You can actually slip Conan Doyle in their also.
Well, heck, you can slip the whole Wold Newton Universe, French and Farmerian in there. While there is small chance any Wold Newton meteor had anything to do with it yet as Farmer notes at about that time a style of writing arose concerned with a certain outlook that was worked by many writers each contributing his bit while feeding off the others as time went by.
I don’t know that Du Maurier is included in the Wold Newton Universe (actually I know he isn’t) but he should be. He was as influential on the group as any other or more so. He originated many of the themes.
Was Burroughs influenced by him? I think so. There was no way ERB could have missed Trilby. No possible way. If he read Trilby and the other two only once which is probable any influence was probably subliminable. ERB was not of the opinion that a book could change the world, so he disguised his more serious thoughts just as Du Maurier did his. He liked to talk about things though.
Singers and dancers. What do they know? What do they know? In the end does it really matter what they know. Time moves on, generations change, as they change the same ideas come around expressed in a different manner. They have their day then are replaced. The footprint in the concrete does remain. Genius will out.
May 5, 2009
The Novels Of George Du Maurier
Peter Ibbetson, Trilby, The Martian
Review by R.E. Prindle
There’s a somebody I’m longin’ to see
I hope that she turns out to be
Someone who’ll watch over me.
Part I: Introduction
Part II: Review of Trilby
Part III: Review Of The Martian
Part IV: Review of Peter Ibbetson
If Trilby was a premontion of his death, in the Martian Du Maurier puts his intellecual affairs in order for his long journey into the night. In the novel he even advises us that he has convinced himself that there is life after death. On the completion of The Martian Du Maurier died of a heart attack. The novel appeared posthumously.
I have read that Trilby was meant as a neo-Gothic novel as the Gothic was enjoying a revival at the time. If Trilby was neo-Gothic then The Martian is associated with the Spiritualist revival of the moment. Du Maurier even does a mini dissertation on table turning and rapping, two prominent manifestations of Spiritualism.
At the same time a Martian craze was in progress. ERBzine a while back ran a list of early Martian novels so the topic was under discussion. H.G. Wells’ War Of The Worlds was published at about the same time as The Martian so Burroughs in 1911 was in the genre, possibly he had been thinking of a Martian novel for a few years. At least it was the first notion that popped into his head. With Du Maurier then we have an interplanatary spiritualistic love story for love story it is. A spectucular one.
The notion is that a female Martian was expelled from Mars coming to Earth in a meteor shower a hundred years previously. Must have landed at Wold Newton. During that time she had inhabited thousands of bodies in search of the ideal situation. She settled on Barty Josselin’s family who were especially attractive and English. She inhabited Barty from an early age. When inhabited Barty had an unerring ability to tell the North. No matter how many times he was spun around or disoriented he could always point to due North. Later in the novel we learn that because of peculiar magnetic influences stronger on Mars than on Earth Martia the Martian was oriented to the North. Thus when she was inhabiting Barty he could unerringly feel due North, if she left him for a while he lost the ability. For most of the book we have no idea how he could feel North but it is explained at last. Very clever explanation too.
Martia falls in love with Barty, planning his life for him as he is to be a great success. I’m looking for that kind of angel. But that’s in the second half of the novel while Du Maurier has to get us from here to there. In each of the novels he has long preambles covering half the book in which he carefully builds up character. Everything then falls neatly into place.
Now, as I said in the introduction, the novel is ostensibly a biography of Barty as told by his friend Robert Maurice, illustrated by the real life Du Maurier at Maruice’s request and also edited by him. This gives Du Maurier triple distance as a writer allowing him I should think to say things it might have been difficult to say otherwise. Even then the distance is frequently breached and one has the feeling that Du Maurier is actually Barty, Bob and himself. Talk about table turnings and rappings. Burroughs come close to this feel and complexity in The Eternal Lover. In that novel he also gives himself a role as well as his character Tarzan. Quite similar to the Martian.
The spate of novels Burroughs produced from 1911 to the first quarter of 1914 must all have been in his mind in embryo before he wrote A Princess Of Mars hence all his readings from childhood to early manhood are reflected. It was only when he switched from talented amateur to professional writer in mid-1914 that he had to search for his plots and stories thus taking in more current literary sources as well.
Whereas in Trilby Du Maurier concentrated on the decade from 1860 to 1870 plus a year or two in this novel he lovingly recreates his school years in Paris during the 1840s before taking Barty up through the years until his death. As a projection of himself Barty is an idealized Du Maurier who does many things Du Maurier did and didn’t.
Barty is 6’4″ and impossibly handsome and winning neither of which would describe Du Maurier. Barty has a wonderful singing voice but too thin for grand opera although he tries as did Du Maurier. Barty had the perfect voice for intimate occasions in which he was invariably successful. Du Maurier also was fond of the musical occasion and, perhaps, in this current age of electronic amplification both could have been successful recording stars a la Gordon Lightfoot or Jesse Colin Young.
Like Du Maurier Barty, while not a great artist, enjoys some success an an illustrator before becoming a wildly successful author. Mostly he knocks around from hand to mouth living off his looks and manners. Women just love him.
As with Du Maurier Barty develops a detached retina in his left eye leaving him blind in that eye. Much discussion of eyes and doctors. Always entertainingly done. Thus in search of a good doctor Barty is directed to a Dr. Hasenclever in Dusseldorf which finally congeals the story and get it moving toward its end.
Re-enter Martia, or actually enter Martia. She just shows up out of the blue. Here we get real Spiritualistic. Barty had begun to despair about his eyes. He despaired to the point of organizing his suicide which he would have done if Martia hadn’t intervened. She puts Barty to sleep. When he wakes his poison is gone, quite disappeared, and in its place a long letter from Martia explaining the situation in his own hand. Spooky what?
In the letter Martia advises him that he is not to think of suicide as she has big plans for him and he is destined to move mountains. Apparently an oculist of some note she gives him expert medical advice then directing him to Dusseldorf and Dr. Hasenclever. Being rather promiscuous in inhabiting bodies she may have passed a one nighter in Hasenclever. I’m only speculating.
It seems that all of England is having optical problems all converging on Dusseldorf and the fabled Dr. Hasenclever at one time. Thus Barty is brought together with his destined wife, Leah.
Barty and Bob Maurice were both attracted to Leah when she was fourteen. Attractive as a young girl she has developed into the premier beauty of the world. She has rejected all suitors including the narrator, Bob, who lives his life as a bachelor as a result. Leah has had her eye on Barty all along.
At this point it might be best to give Martia’s history. Du Maurier’s account is interesting so at the risk of offending I’ll give a very lengthy quotation of seven pages. As few readers of this review will read The Martian I don’t think it will hurt.
That Barty’s version of his relations with “The Martian” is absolutely sincere is impossible to doubt. He was quite unconscious of the genesis of every book he ever wrote. His first hint of every one of them was the elaborately worked out suggestion he found by his bedside in the morning- written by himself in his sleep during the preceding night, with his eyes wide open, while more often than not his wife anxiously watched him at his unconscious work, careful not to wake or disturb him in any way.
Roughly epitomized Martia’s story was this:
For an immense time she had gone through countless incarnations, from the lowest form to the highest, in the cold and dreary planet we call Mars, the outermost of the four inhabited worlds of our system, where the sun seems no bigger than an orange, and which but for its moist, thin, rich atmosphere and peculiar magnetic conditions that differ from ours, would be too cold above ground for human or animal or vegetable life. As it is, it is only inhabited now in the neighborhood of tis equator’ and even there during its long winter it is colder and more desolate than Cape Horn or Spitzbergen- except that the shallow, fresh-water sea does not freeze except for a few months at either pole.
All these incarnations were forgotten by her but the last; nothing remained of them all but a vague consciusness that they had once been, until their culmination in what would be in Mars the equivalent of a woman on our earth.
Man in Mars is, it appears, a very different being from what he is here. he is amphibious and descends from no monkey, but from a small animal that seems to be something between our seal and our sea-lion.
According to Martia, his beauty is to that of the seal as that of Theseus or Antinous to that of an orang-outang. His five senses are extraordinarily acute, even the sense of touch in his webbed fingers and toes; and in addition to these he possesses a sixth, that comes from his keen and unintermittent sense of the magnetic current, which is far stronger in Mars than on the earth, and far more complicated and more thoroughly understood.
When any object is too delicate and minute to be examined by the sense of touch and sight, the Martian shuts he eyes and puts it against the pit of his stomach, and knows all about it, even its inside.
In the absolute dark, or with his eyes shut, and when he stops his ears, he is more intensely conscious of what immediately surrounds him than at any other time, except that all colour-perception ceases; conscious not only of material objects, but of what is passing in his fellow-Martian’s mind- and this for an area of many hundreds of cubic yards.
In the course of its evolution this extraordinary faculty- which exists on earth in a rudimentary state, but only among some birds and fish and insects and in the lower forms of animal life- has developed the Martian mind in a direction very different from ours, since no inner life apart from the rest, no privacy, no concealment is possible except at a distance involving absolute isolation; not even thought is free; yet in some incomprehensible way there is, as a matter of fact, a really greater freedom of thought than is conceivable among ourselves; absolute liberty in absolute obedience to law; a paradox beyond our comprehension.
Their habits are simple as those we attribute to cave-dwellers during the prehistoric periods of the earth’s existence. But their moral sense is so far in advance of ours that we haven’t even a terminology by which to express it.
In comparison, the highest and best of us are monsters of iniquity and egoism, cruelty and corruption; and our planet is (a very heaven for warmth and brilliancy and beauty, in spite of earthquakes and cyclones and tornadoes) a very hell through the creatures that people it- a shambles, a place of torture, a grotesque and impure pandemonium.
These exemplary Martians wear no clothes but the exquisite fur with which nature has endowed them, and which constitutes a part of their immense beauty, according to Martia.
They feed exclusively on edible moss and roots and submarine seaweed, which they know how to grow and prepare and preserve. Except for heavy-winged bat-like birds, and big fish, which they have domesticated and use for their own purposes in an incredible manner (incarnating a portion of themselves and their consciousness at will in their bodies), they have cleared Mars of all useless and harmful and mutually destructive forms of animal life. A sorry fauna, the Martian- even at its best- and a flora beneath contempt, compared to ours.
They are great engineers and excavators, great irrigators, great workers in delicate metal, stone, marble, and precious gems (there is no wood to speak of), great sculptors and decorators of the beautiful caves, so fancifully and so intricately connected, in which they live, and which have taken thousands of years to design and excavate and ventilate and adorn, and which they warm and light up at will in a beautiful manner by means of the tremendous magnetic current.
This richly party-colored light is part of their mental and moral life in a way it is not in us to apprehend, and has its exact equivalent in sound- and vice versa.
They have no language of words, and do not need it, since they can only be isolated in thought from each other at a distance greater than that which any vocal sound can traverse; but their organs of voice and hearing are far more complex and perfect than ours, and their atmosphere infinitely more conductive of phonal vibrations.
It seems that everything which can be apprehended by the eye or hand is capable of absolute sonorous translation; light, colour, texture, shape in its three dimensions, weight and density. The phonal expression and comprehension of all these are acquired by the Martian baby almost as soon as it knows how to swim or dive, or move upright and erect on dry land or beneath it; and the mechanical translation of such expression, by means of wind and wire and sounding texture and curved surface of extraordinary elaboration, is the principal business of Martian life- an art by which all the combined past experience and future aspirations of the race receive the fullest utterance. Here again personal magnetism plays an enormous part.
And it is by means of this long and patiently evolved and highly trained faculty that the race is still developing towards perfection with constant strain and effort- although the planet is far advanced in its decadence, and within measurable distance of its unfitness for life of any kind.
All is so evenly and harmoniously balanced, whether above ground or beneath, that existence is full of joy in spite of the tremendous strain of life, in spite also of a dreariness of outlook on barren nature, which is not to be matched by the most inhospitable regions of the earth; and death is looked upon as the crowning joy of all, although life is prolonged by all means in their power.
For when the life of the body ceases, and the body itself is burned and its ashes scattered to the winds and waves, the infinitesimal, imponderable and indestructible something we call the soul is known to lose itself in a sunbeam and make for the sun, with all its memories about it, that it may then receive further development, fitting it for other systems altogether beyond conception; and the longer it has lived in Mars the better for its eternal life in the future.
But it often, on its journey sunwards, gets tangled in other beams, and finds its way to some intermediate planet- Mercury, Venus, or the Earth; and putting on flesh and blood and bone once more, and losing for a space all its knowledge of its own past, it has to undergo another mortal incarnation- a new personal experience, beginning with its new birth; a dream and a forgetting, till it awakens again after the pangs of dissolution, and finds itself a step further on the way to freedom.
Martia, it seems, came to our earth in a shower of shooting-stars a hundred years ago. She had not lived her full measure of years on Mars; she had elected to be suppressed, through some unfitness, physical or mental or moral, which rendered it expedient that she should become a mother of Martians, for they are very particular about that sort of thing in Mars; we shall have to be so here some day, or else we shall degenerate and become extinct; or even worse!
Many Martian souls come to our planet in this way, it seems, and hasten to incarnate themselves in as promising unborn but just begotten men and women as they find, that they may the sooner be free to hie them sunwards, with all their collected memories.
According to Martia, most of the best and finest of our race have souls that have lived forgotten lives in Mars. But Martia was in no hurry; she was full of intelligent curiosity, and for ten years she went up and down the earth, revelling in the open air, lodging herself in the brains and bodies of birds, beasts, and fishes, insects, and animals of all kinds- like a hermit crab in a shell that belongs to another- but without the slightest inconvience to the legitimate owners, who were always quite unconscious of her presence, although she made what use she could of what wits they had.
Thus she had a heavenly time on this sunlit earth of ours- now a worm, now a porpoise, now a sea-gull or a dragon-fly, now some fleet footed, keen-eyed quadruped that did not live by slaying, for she had a horror of bloodshed.
She could only go where these creatures chose to take her, since she had no power to control their actions in the slightest degree; but she saw, heard, smelled and touched and tasted with their organs of sense, and was as conscious of their animal life as they were themselves. Her description of this phase of her earthly career is full of extraordinary interest, and sometimes extremely funny- though quite unconsciously so, no doubt. For instance, she tells how happy she once was when she inhabited a small brown Pomeranian dog called “Schanpfel,” in Cologne, and belonging to a Jewish family who dealt in old clothes near the Cathedral; and how she loved and looked up to them- how she revelled in fried fish and the smell of it- and in all the stinks in every street of the famous city- all except one, that arose from Herr Johann Maria Farina’s renowned emporium in the Julichs Platz, which so offended the canine nostrils that she had to give up inhabiting that small Pomeranian dog for ever, &c.
Then she took to man, and inhabited man and woman, and especially child, in all parts of the globe for many years; and finally, for the last fifty or sixty years or so, she settled herself exclusively among the best and healthiest English she could find.
One can find many threads leading to current science fiction ideas as developed through the intervening years. Mental telepathy is a virtual human fixation. Having once given up the notion of God, man turned to the idea of visitations from outer space to replace that religious impulse. Thus Martia from Mars. There were many notions there to enter Burroughs mind and set him thinking.
Du Maurier enters a thought on Eugenics which was dear to his heart. He always has beautiful and intelligent marrying the same so that the genes (although genes were not yet known) would be transmitted to the offspring.
He also has the soul making for the sun with all its memories intact. Memories are very important to Du Maurier who records impressions of sight, sounds and smells as when Martia inhabited the little dog.
Martia wanted Barty to marry a Julia Royce who was the second most beautiful woman in the world after Leah and one of the richest but Barty defied Martia preferring his long time love Leah Gibson who had shown up in Dusselforf with her mother, friends and rest of England.
Martia leaves Barty in a huff. He and Leah return to England Martialess where he leads a determined life as an illustrator along the lines of that of Du Maurier Martia finally takes pity on him returning to be his collaborator and muse as the pair launch a spectacular literary career, I suppose not unlike that of Du Maurier. If Martia has a sister send her my way. I’m paying attention to those meteor showers now.
Martia advises him to keep his pad and pencil bedside so that when she inhabits him he will be able to write. So Barty writes two hours a night, setting up outlines and plans which he elaborates during the day. I would like such a muse to watch over me as I imagine every writer would. Barty’s books astonish the world changing the course of history. His masterwork is called Sardonyx.
Eventually Martia tires of this, wishing to be incarnated and get on with her journey from Mars to the Sun with Barty in tow.
That Du Maurier has his own death in mind and The Martian is a book about death, we have this quote:
He (Barty) has robbed Death of nearly all its terrors; even for the young it is no longer the grisly phantom it once was for ourselves, but rather of an aspect mellow and benign; for to the most skeptical he (and only he) has restored that absolute conviction of an indestructible germ of Immortality within us, born of remembrance made perfect and complete after dissolution; he alone has built the golden bridge in the middle of which science and faith can shake hands over at least one common possibilty- nay, one common certainty for those who have read him aright. (That might possibly be you and me, I think he means.)
There is no longer despair in bereavement- all bereavement is but a half parting; there is no real parting except for those who survive, and the longest earthly life is but a span. Whatever future may be, the past will be ours forever, and that means our punishment and our reward and reunion with those we loved. It is a happy phrase, that which closes the career of Sardonyx. It has become as universal as the Lord’s Prayer!
One guesses that science had destroyed any hope of immortality for the educated person. Of all human desires the hope of immortality is the strongest hence the fear of losing it is the strongest fear. Thus Barty (and Martia) came up with a scientifically tenable hope of escaping death that satisfied the religious need. It’s a pity that Du Maurier didn’t quote Barty in extenso so that we might learn what the solution was.
Having solved that problem from there we go to Martia’s announcement to Barty that she is going to be his next child. Martia is born to die an early death as she is anxious to complete the journey to the center of the sun. Given the content of Peter Ibbetson and Trilby one begins to question Du Maurier’s own sanity. These books are really convincingly written; one wonders how wobbly the guy really was. Either he was a master writer or he really half believed this stuff.
Martia writes a letter to Barty explaining her intentions to be reincarnated. This is all actually written by Barty in his own handwriting which his wife and intimates, like Bob Maurice, his biographer, know. they have doubts about Barty’s sanity but when a guy is churning out books after book changing the world for the better what is one to say?
“MY BELOVED BARTY,- The time has come at last when I must bid you farewell.
“I have outstayed my proper welcome on earth, as a disembodied conscience by just a hundred years, and my desire for reincarnatin has become an imperious passion not to be resisted.
“It is more than a desire- it is a duty as well, a duty far too long deferred.
“Barty, I am going to be your next child. I can conceive no greater earthly felicity than to be a child of yours and Leah’s. I should have been one long before, but that you and I have had so much to do together for this beautiful earth- a great debt to pay; you, for being as you are; I , for having known you.
“Barty, you have no conception what you are to me, and always have been.
“I am to you but a name, a vague idea, a mysterious inspiration; sometimes a questionable guide, I fear. You don’t even believe all I have told you about myself- you think it all a somnambulistic invention of your own; and so does your wife, and so does your friend.
“Oh that I could connect myself in your mind with the shape I wore when I was last a living thing! No shape on earth, not either yours or Leah’s or that of any child yet born to you both, is more beautiful to the eye that has learned how to see than the fashion of the lost face and body of mine.
I don’t know what any readers I may have think of these quotes but these three novels are either the work of a genius or a nut cake. I read with one eyebrow raised in a state of astonishment. Du Maurier is daring. Perhaps it is just as well he died as he finished this, what wonders what he would come up with next.
Martia is born a girl. She is named Marty. Singularly delicate as a spindle. As a young girl Martia falls from a tree injuring her spine. The result is physical degeneration. Within a few years she is dead. As she died Barty died with her.
This poses an interesting reflection. Father and daughter are united in death then married in the after life. I suppose there is many a father and daughter so close that they would like to marry but society and time prevent such unions. Indeed, such marriages could but go sour amid the stresses of life. Nevertheless in a shocking development Barty has not only solved the problem of immoratality but marriage between daughters and fathers. Threw me for a loop when I realized what had happened.
One supposes the pair reached the sun turning into sunbeams that have lighted the Earth continuing on toward Betelguese.
The closing line is: Barty Josselin is no more.
Prophetic of George Du Maurier’s own death shortly.
Thus Du Maurier closed out a singularly influential life. It was perhaps just as well that he died when he did. He was only sixty-two but in another ten or fifteen years the world he knew, loved and reprsented would swept away forever. He would have had no place in the new order. As with all of us the past retains a hold while the swift moving earth slips from beneath our feet.
It is amusing to think Du Maurier was reincarnated in the career of Edgar Rice Burroughs who penned his own A Princess Of Mars in 1911. One can’t say for sure Martia and Dejah Thoris are related but I rather think that Du Maurier’s The Martian is a literary antecendent that formed part of ERB’s vision of Mars.
Like Du Maurier he was able to incorporate a multitude of literary worlds within his own.
April 29, 2009
George Du Maurier
Review by R.E. Prindle
Du Maurier is interesting as a possible influence on Burroughs. Du Maurier not only borrows from authors he admires but tells the reader he’s borrowing. Burroughs borrows without creditation. The great literature of the nineteenth century was written during Du Maurier’s lifetime. Thus Alexandre Dumas’ Three Musketeers of 1845 was a new book. It was also a book that overwhelmed Du Maurier’s imagination while having a later profound effect on Burroughs. Thus Du Maurier tells the reader his plot is based on The Three Musketeers. Like Burroughs Du Maurier incorporates several sources in an obvious manner. He was apparently fascinated by Henry Murger’s Scenes De La Vie Boheme of 1851. I haven’t read the book as yet but other reviewers say the influence is there. I pick up an influence from La Dame Aux Camellias by Dumas fils also. Du Maurier refers to many poets and writers whose writing left him helpless but as I am not that well grounded in many aspects of early nineteenth century literature I can’t identify the influences myself but they are as plentiful and obvious as with Burroughs himself.
In his own life Du Maurier had aspirations to be an opera singer but lacked the powerful voice. He then aspired to be an artist but lacked that talent becoming one of the premier illustrators of the century instead. And then as he felt death approaching he turned to writing. Thus a failure as a singer, a failure as an artist but success as an illustrator he became a huge success as a novelist. The careers of his protagonists generally follow the same course.
He is also a nostalgic writer as he lovingly recreates the scenes of his youth and life. He always retained the impress of La Boheme living his life in a genteel bohemian style. I suppose today he would be like an old hippy walking around in a gray pony tail, sandals and the garb of the sixties while making a fortune as a stock broker.
Thus Trilby opens in an artist’s atelier on the Left Bank of Paris in the Latin Quarter. The Latin Quarter of his time may be compared to New York’s Greenwich Village or San Francisco’s North Beach of the fifties and sixties. Du Maurier himself lived such an existence for a couple years at the end of the eighteen fifties.
We are thus introduced to his three musketeers- Taffy, the Laird and Little Billee. They are fine comrades living the Bohemian life style much as some upper middle class hippies took to a bohemian life style with torn jeans and the pose of the impoverished in the nineteen-sixties.
The whole ensemble is gathered thogether in the atelier for the opening section. Taffy, The Laird and Billy are letting the studio. As Du Maurier says on the title page this is a love story. Trilby O’ Farrell the love interest turns up immediately. She and Billy love each other but Trilby is classed as a grisette which was apparently the equivalent of a hippy chick who was somewhat free living. Trilby declassed herself completely by posing as an artist’s model in the altogether or, in another word, nude. This was no small thing to all concerned although the bohos tended to be a little tolerant.
After Trilby arrives come Svengali and his sidekick Gecko. They are musicians. Svengali is billed as an incomparable musician which is to say performer. He was a great pianist. He taught Gecko his violinist everything he knew.
We are discussing the nineteenth century and nineteenth century views in context. The story can’t be told any other way. If the attitudes and opinions of other times and other people offend y0u be forewarned and proceed at you own risk. I will bowlderize history to suit no one’s whims. As Walter Duranty facetiously said: I write as I please. Du Maurier, the gentlest of men, nevertheless had well formed opinions. Svengali is a Jew and pretty much a stereotype of the Jew at the time. He appears to be a beteljew from the Pale actually although he is said to be German but the accent Du Maurier gives him could just as well be Yiddish as German. It is important to bear all this in mind because in the contest for the possession of Trilby between Billy and Svengali the latter is going to obtain her.
There’s an interesting contrast here the meaning of which isn’t exactly clear to me. Trilby has a beautiful foot, the kind that drives fetichists wild. After this first encounter Billy, the consummate artist, sketches the foot on the wall to perfection. All the others are amazed at the likeness. This sketch occupies as central place in the story as does Svengali’s hypnotism of Trilby. Svengali on the other hand demands that Trilby open her mouth wide so he can look in. Raises your eyebrows when you read this. Not only does Trilby have a beautiful foot but she has a cavernous mouth that made for an amazing sound chamber, the kind that comes along apparently once in ever.
The problem is that Trilby can’t put two notes together nor can she even find the note while finding the key is bothersome. Much is made of her inability to sing as she screeches ludicrously through Sweet Alice, Ben Bolt. (Ben Bolt was one of the most popular songs of the century on both sides of the Atlantic. Due to the wonders of the internet if you’ve never heard Ben Bolt you can get a good performance on the net. I’d heard of the song but never heard it until I checked it out on the net. Just amazing.)
Her rendition was a cause of great merriment. So you have the European sketching the foundation of the girl while the Jew is inspecting the intellectual possibilities. The Jew will win because he’s at the right end. As I say the mystery of these images float over my head. I’m merely making a stab at the meaning. I know there’s a contest and what it’s about but the symbolism is shaky to me.
And so the introduction ends with everyone agreeing that Svengali is a cad after he left and all three musketeers falling in love with Trilby.
There is much description of the fine times the musketeers have. One gets the impression that Du Maurier was living the life in the sixties in Paris but such was not the case. He signed on at Punch in 1860 and thus was working as an illustrtor for them from that date until his death. He seems to have been familiar with the Pre-Raphaelite painters of London of whom he speaks highly most especially of Millais. He seems to have been friends with a Fred Walker who he thought was a great artist but who seems to have been lost in the mists of time. I’d never heard of him anyway but one can find his pictures on the internet. Du Maurier loved the artist’s life.
Much of this book as well as the other is a loving recreation of the times and his memory of the times is one of wonderful things. Very refreshing against the unremitting negativity of modern literature. The book is set mainly in the sixties but the ‘horrible’ year of 1871 and the French Commune obtrudes. Du Maurier while recognizing its ugliness nevertheless passes over it quickly with a shrug and back to the good times. He introduces some additional charming characters but then come the crisis.
Billy had asked the declassed Trilby to marry him nineteen times and she had always refused because she knew she wasn’t in his class. After an amazingly wonderful Christmas feast in the atelier Billy asks again. Trilby, as she says, in a moment of weakness accepts. When the news reaches Billy’s mother, Mrs. Bagot, she scurries over to Paris from London to check Trilby out. When she learns that Trilby had posed in the altogether she persuades Trilby to give up her son.
Trilby leaves town without a goodbye. When Billy finds out he has his brain fever or a nervous breakdown that prostrates him for weeks. There was a chance he wouldn’t make it. He does but with psychological consequences. He can no longer love while he lives in a deep melancholia. There are some who know where that’s at. After he recovers he returns to England. the wonderful Bohemian rhapsody is over.
Trilby had left Paris to go to the provinces. She had a little brother who she was supporting and bringing up who she took with her and who then dies of a fever. This devastates Trilby who cuts her hair, dresses as a man and walks back to Paris. Her old haunts have disappeared in the interim so she shows up on the doorstep of Svengali who is but too happy to take her in. The hypnotized Trilby is a small part of the book. The next hundred pages or so describe Billy’s wonderful success as a painter and the loss of camaraderie as the young idealists of the Latin Quarter age and lose their affinity for each other. Charmingly told with just the right touch of heartache.
In the meantime and off stage, as it were, Svengali accompanied by Gecko keeps Trilby in a hypnotic trance as he
teaches her to use her tremendous oral cavity to sing. While she has the exact equipment to be a great singer she lacks the musical sense and can’t learn it sober. Svengali instills the musical sense through hypnosis but as Gecko later explains Trilby is merely providing the instrument while Svengali is actually singing through her. For three years they labor in the salt mines, as they say, performing on street corners or wherever. Then Trilby is properly trained becoming the rage of Europe as La Svengali becoming bigger and better than such stars as Adelina Patti or Jenny Lind, two real life divas.
Thus while Billy has lost Trilby’s foot or body, Svengali has captured her soul or oral cavity. That’s about the only way I can make sense of foot and cavity.
Now, in real terms the Jews had been emancipated beginning in 1789 by the French Revolution although occuring at different localities in Europe at different times. With the emanicipation a contest began for the soil and soul of Europe. Europeans owned the soil but the Jews while originating nothing became the cultural virtuosi of Europe. Not only in the performing arts but in finance, science and as entrepreneurs. The soil temporarily remained European but the culture was becoming Judaized. It was then that Freud made his assault on European concepts of morality. So Du Maurier has portrayed the situation poetically in a magnificent manner.
Thus the Jews while offering no Beethovens, Bachs or Mozarts became virtuoso interpreters of the music as performers. As Svengali says: Piff, what is the composition compared to my ability to render it. There you have the exploiter’s motto. The Allen Kleins and Albert Grossmans of the world suck the talent, as it were, out of their performers or, boys, as they call them, as agents taking nearly everything leaving the actual talent a pittance.
Nothing changes, this is what Svengali was doing with Trilby or, in another word, Europe. He was making a fortune while Trilby in her hypnotized state was wasting away. Oh, Svengali dressed her well but for the sake of his appearance not hers. When she died, of the fortune that she had made for Svengali none was left to her. Except for presents she had received in appreaciation of her singing she had nothing. They were supposed to be man and wife but, in fact, Svengali never married her. Here I think we have the real import of the story; the competition for Europe between the Jew and the European. Having given up the soul of Europe Europeans were losing their very substanc, the soil, or Trilby’s foot.
Du Maurier is also describing the rise of the artist from a despised menial to the central position in society that they have attained today, especially movie, TV and musical stars. One only has to look at the position Bob Dylan has attained to see the result today. Here is a man with no qualities revered as if he was the savior while poised to begin a tour of stadiums at 67.50 a head that will sell out earning him a fortune within a couple months. Thus as with Svengali he has conquered the soul and wealth of virtually the world. This is truly astonishing.
So Svengali is on top of the world. Despised as a beteljew in the atelier a short five years ago he now has Trilby/Europe and the fortune that goes with her. Alas, he is sucking the life’s blood from her to do this and she is within weeks of death when the Three Musketeers hearing of La Svengali’s fame travel back to Paris to see her perform.
Of course they are so astonished at seeing someone who looks like Trilby singing that they can’t believe it is indeed her. Svengali harbors ill will toward Billy because Billy is always in her heart while her relationship with Svengali is strictly professional.
The Musketeers and the Svengalis are staying at the same hotel where Svengali meeting Billy can’t resist spitting in his face. Billy, who is actually known in the story as Little Billee is much smaller than the six foot Svengali but he nevertheless goes after him getting the worst of the fight until Taffy, a giant body builder type, shows up grabbing Svengali’s ‘huge Hebrew nose’ between his first two fingers leading him around by the nose. Oh, those unintended consequences. The humiliation is too much for Svengali, he becomes vicious toward Trilby in revenge. Readying for their London debut he bullies Trilby in front of Gecko, now his first violinist, who stabs Svengali in the neck with a small knife.
Svengali while wounded is not hurt that bad but his physicians advise him not to conduct the opening performance. This creates a problem because Svengali must make eye contact to sing through Trilby.
He takes a box directly in front of Trilby. But he spots Billy and the other two musketeers in the pit in front of him. The malice and venom he has toward Billy makes his heart fail. His face freezes into a risus sardonicus as he sits lifelessly leering at the Three Musketeers, triumphant in death. Of course Trilby can’t sing a note on her own so that ends a fine career. Now begins the denouement. While seemingly superfluous this is a very important part of the story giving it its secondary meaning.
The Musketeers take Trilby in charge. No one is aware she had been hypnotized while she has no memory of performing and little of the lost five years. The situation between she and Mrs. Bagot, Billy’s mother, are now reversed. Trilby is the great lady while Mrs. Bagot is merely a middle class hausfrau. One might say Svengali has created the real Trilby. Mrs. Bagot still hadn’t posed in the altogether however. Where was Hugh Heffner when you needed him.
On the surface it looks as though Mrs. Bagot has gotten her comeuppance but as Trilby is the creation of Svengali she would have remained the simple little grisette that Billy loved without him. She would have remained the foot without realizing the potential of her oral cavity. Nevertheless this Trilby was Trilby as she should have been.
The woman was fading fast. Svengali had drawn the vital energy from her in his exploitation of her. Mysteriously, just before she dies, a life sized portrait of Svengali is delivered. The contest between he and Billy is still in effect. Gazing in the painted eyes of the hypnotist Trilby breaks into song as a final effort in her best manner.
Billy is grasping desperately for Trilby’s love. On her death bed he leans close to hear her breath out- Svengali, Svengali, Svengali. Thus he believes she loved Svengali more than he. His brain fever is reactivated, he dies. In grand operatic style the love story ends. All because Mrs. Bagot was a snob. But, I think a correct one. Although, what the heck, Billy was just a boho painter.
As an anti-climax in a final chapter titled Twenty Year After as tribute to Dumas whose sequel to The Three Musketeers was title Twenty Years After, Taffy takes a trip to Paris where he finds Gecko playing fiddle in a music hall. He sends a note that Gecko accepts requesting a meeting at his hotel. There Gecko resolves the mystery filling Taffy in on Trilby’s missing five years. He reveals that Trilby had always loved Little Billee and never Svengali.
The reading public then and now has concentrated on the Svengali-Trilby hypnotism aspect of the novel ignoring the rest. That aspect is actually a very small part of the novel but without it I suppose the story woud have fallen flat. Even today a manager like Colonel Tom Parker is thought of as a Svengali to Elvis Presley, so the name has come into common usage for someone’s inexplicable control of someone else.
Edgar Rice Burroughs who had a fascination with hypnotism was probably charmed by that aspect of the story. In his most detailed reference to hypnotism in Thuvia, Maid Of Mars he seems most influenced by stage hypnotism in which the audience is induced to see what is not there rather than the Svengali type. Still, Thuvia-Trilby and the relationship between Jav and Thuvia and Thuvia and Tario has some resonances. I dout that ERB would have been conscious of his borrowing imagining rather that he was creating the story from whole cloth.
End of Part Two, Go to Part Three the Review of The Martian.
April 27, 2009
The Novels Of George Du Maurier
Peter Ibbetson, Trilby, The Martian
Part I: Introduction
Part II: Review of Trilby
Part III: Review of The Martian
Part: IV: Review of Peter Ibbetson
Occasionally a book finds it way to your hand that seems as if the author had you in mind personally when he wrote it. This one’s for you, Ron. It is as though his mind is communicating directly with yours over perhaps centuries. A couple two or three decades ago one such work that came to my hand was The Secret Memoirs Of The Duc De Roquelaure. I never would have bought it myself, never even suspected its existence, but it came in a bundle of books I bid on at auction containing another book I wanted.
I had the four volumes of the Duc’s life so I read them. The memoirs were ‘Written by himself now for the first time completely translated into English in four volumes.’ Thus in 1896-97 an intermediary on the same wave length as the Duc and myself provided the means for me to read the Duc’s mind. Believe it or not the edition was limited to 1000 copies, privately printed of which 500 were for England and 500 for America. Mine is number 424 of the English set.
There could have been few who had ever read the Duc and I may very well be the only man alive at the present to have shared the Duc’s thoughts. Truly I believed he was speaking directly to me over the 400 intervening years.
I had the same feeling when I read George Du Maurier’s three volumes published from 1891 to 1897. Curious that the Duc de Roquelaure should have been translated in 1896-97 isn’t it? Like the Duc George Du Maurier seemed to speak out to me over more than a hundred years to communicate directly with my mind.
I probably never would have sought out his books except for my Edgar Rice Burroughs studies. I wanted to check out whether there may have been a connection to Burroughs through the second of the novels- Trilby. Then browsing the store I came across a Modern Library 1929 edition of the first of Du Maurier’s efforts- Peter Ibbetson. At that point, I thought, I might as well get the third- The Martian- which I did. This time over the internet.
I have now read each title three times as is my habit if I’m going to review a book. Before moving on to the novels it might be appropriate to say a few words about Du Maurier who may be an unfamiliar name to the reader although he or she may be familiar with the name of his very famous creation, the hypnotist and musician Svengali of the Trilby novel.
Du Maurier was born in 1834 and died in 1896 so he was ideally situated to view the whole Victorian era. Indeed, in his own way he was a symbol of it. As a most famous illustrator of books and an artist satirizing the era for the humorous magazine Punch, he in many ways interpreted English society for itself for nearly fifty years.
He died of heart disease so when he turned to writing to begin what is his virtual literary epitaph in 1891 it may have been with the premonition of his imminent death. He sensed that it was time for a summing up of the life he loved so well. Heart ailments figure prominently in his work. Indeed he died of a heart attack just after finishing The Martian which began publication shortly after his death. Thus while portraying the scenes of his life in Punch and other magazines and books he summarized his life and times magnificently in his three novels.
They are magnificent works. As every man should Du Maurier loved his life and it was a life worth living. The novels are wonderful examinations of exotic altered states of consciousness. In Peter Ibbetson the protagonist is insane, committed to Colney Hatch or some such. At night in his dreams he finds a way to link his dream with the dream of a married woman on the outside. She and his dreams meld into one dream in which they live actual alternate dream lives that are as real as their daytime existences. This went on for a couple decades or more until the lady died. Very eerie.
In Trilby in a love contest between the protagonist Billy and the musician Svengali for the hand of Trilby Billy is denied his love for societal reasons while after a sequence of events Trilby falls into the clutches of Svengali who through hypnotism turns her into a Diva. After his denial Billy becomes temporarily deranged falling into a deep depression which then turns into an equally severe melancholia when he emerges from the mania. So once again we have a description of two altered states of consciousness.
In the third and last novel the protagonist is possessed by an alien intelligence named Martia from Mars. Over the last century she has inhabited thousands of people but only with the hero, Barty Josselin, has she been able to establish contact. In an absolutely astonishing twist she occupies the body of Barty’s daughter. Both Barty and the daughter die enabling Martia to unite pshysically, in the spirit world, with her love. Thus the father and daughter are united which I suppose is the dream of many a father and daughter. The effect on the reader, this one anyway, is ethereal and eerie.
Du Maurier injects real life figures into his fiction. The real personalities of the day lend credibility to the fiction. Du Maurier involves himself in the stories in ingenious ways. While one can’t definitely say that Burroughs learned to inject himself into his stories from Du Maurier yet the framing devices in which Burroughs plays himself are very reminiscent of Du Maurier.
For instance in the Martian the story is a biography of Barty Josselin told by his friend Robert Maurice who then asks George Du Maurier the famous Punch illustrator to illustrate and edit his book. So the biography is ostensibly told in the first person by the fictional Robert Maurice while it is illustrated by the real life George Du Maurier who posing as the editor is actually writing the book. Du Maurier even inserts a long letter of acceptance in which he recapitulates his memories of Barty.
When one realized this the effect is almost supernatural, especially as with a little background on Du Maurier one realizes that the histories of the protagonists are virtually fictionalized histories of Du Maurier himself.
Thus while I haven’t discovered a direct connection to Du Maurier ERB is always telling a fictionalized account of his mental states along with a virtual chronicle of his life. A few points in ERB’s The Eternal Lover bear a very close resemblance to the love themes of Du Maurier especially in Peter Ibbetson and The Martian.
The Martian itself may have been a major influence on Burroughs’ own Martian novels. When John Carter, who was always attracted to Mars,stands naked on a cliff face in Arizona with his arms outstretched toward the Warrior Planet the scene is very reminiscent of Barty Josselin leaning with out stretched arms from his window staring at Mars and imploring Martia for her assistance.
Carter is magically transported to Mars in some unexplained way that may have been no more than an altered state of consciousness much as in the same way Martia inhabited Barty’s mind and body. Once on Mars Carter finds his lady love, Dejah Thoris, in a manner reminiscent of Barty and Martia. Obviously other literary influences abound in ERB’s Martian series but at the core very probably is Du Maurier’s story of Martia and Barty. By 1911 the influence was coming from ERB’s subconscious and he may not have been aware of the resource he was drawing on.
The question is when did Burroughs read, as I believe he did, the three Du Maurier novels? As ERB’s first novel, A Princess Of Mars, had to be built on the Martian it follows that ERB read Du Maurier before 1911. Du Maurier wrote from 1891 to 1896. His novels were serialized in Harper’s Magazine in the US either before or at publication so Burroughs had the opportunity to read them in magazine format as well as the books.
Of the three novels, Trilby was an absolute smash being one of the biggest sellers of the nineteenth century. The sensational story of Trilby and Svengali that everyone concentrated on would certainly have brought Du Maurier to ERB’s attention.
At the time his own life was in turmoil. At the time Trilby was published ERB was in the process of leaving the Michigan Military Academy at which he was employed for what he thought was a career in the Army. Once at his assignment, Fort Grant in Arizona, he would likely have had the odd idle moment to either read the magazine installments or the book.
As Carter’s transfer to Mars takes place in Arizona there is an association with ERB’s army days and Du Maurier’s The Martian. Not proof positive, of course, but not impossible or improbable either. He must then have read the last volume in Idaho when he owned his stationery store there in 1898 and could obtain any book or magazine he wanted, either English or American.
So these wonderful other worldly stories of Du Maurier gestated in his mind for twelve or thirteen years before emerging from his forehead beginning in 1911.
I will now review the novels in detail. These are spectacular, wonderful stories. First the middle volume- Trilby- then the last of Du Maurier’s works- The Martian- followed by the first, Peter Ibbetson.
The review of Trilby is Part II, call that up.
January 13, 2009
Edgar Rice Burroughs On Mars
The Chessmen Of Mars
The Dance Of Barsoom
See Post I for Intro.
The twenties were a difficult financial period for ERB, indeed, as was the rest of his life to be. The substantial sums he had made in Chicago were spent before he left. ERB had saved nothing. He arrived in LA with no other resources than his current income. That income was very substantial by any measure but unequal to ERB’s massive spending capabilities so that at the time he wrote Chessmen he was already strapped for cash and headed for deep debt.
Always envious of the fabulous sums paid Zane Grey by the slick magazines ERB wanted to sell this story for ten thousand dollars to one of the big slicks. There were no takers so that the story went to the pulps for thirty-five hundred. Adding insult to injury he was told that the stories were too preposterous to be considered.
Part of ERB’s literary problem was that genre categories were not yet well developed. H.G. Wells’ early sci-fi efforts were labeled Fantasias, a term that could be understood by the literary arbiters, while still considered what we would call today, literary fiction. Even George Du Maurier’s trilogy of essentially science fiction novels- Peter Ibbetson, Trilby and The Martian have never been considered anything but literary fiction. They are three terrific stories of psychological dissociation while it would seem certain that Burroughs read them and was probably influenced by them. I can heartily recommend them. Very choice.
So the genres were taking shape at the period but had not yet evolved as they would during the thirties, forties and fifties until today fantasy, horror and sci-fi dominate the fiction best seller lists. If Chessmen was thought preposterous in 1920 one wonders what his critics would have thought of such movies as The Exterminator or The Predator. God, those people were so awkward and unevolved. Well, it’s the price you pay for being an innovator. Remember what the Pope told Galileo.
So, ERB was stuck in the pulps. Perhaps smarting from this rejection ERB would try to break out of his pulp rate with several realistic novels. the first was The Girl From Hollywood, a very decent attempt at a literary novel, that ERB’s long time publisher refused to publish. Following in the burro tracks of Zane Grey ERB wrote a couple of Westerns only one of which he could get published at the time. I read a lot of Westerns in the fifties while a kid. I thought ERB’s efforts were as good as what I read then. They’re all potboilers, even the so-called classics.
He even attempted a couple of Indian epics that I found so-so but I know other people who liked them a lot. Not so critical as myself, I guess. Oh, right, he couldn’t get Marcia Of The Doorstep published either. So he was type cast as a sci-fi/fantasy writer. At least he knew he could do that very well.
Zane Grey wrote some pretty strange Westerns. He himself was quite a womanizer and his novels pander quite successfully to the distaff side. He knew women well. Probably that was why he was paid those great prices by the Saturday Evening Post et al. Oh heck, ERB was just too outre for the Post.
In Chessmen ERB gives feminine appeal his best shot. I would imagine he was trying to reach the ladies when he describes Tara’s fabulous bath. Either that or he was trying to titillate us boys. Worked with me. But let’s assume he was trying to broaden his appeal as the title was offered to the slicks.
Chessmen was based on his three favorite novels as are all his books- The Viginian, Prince And The Pauper and Little Lord Fauntleroy.
Thus Tara teases Papa John as her ‘Virginian.’ We are then introduced to Gahan of far Gathol. ERB presents him first in his princely guise as, indeed, he is a prince of Gathol. ERB chooses to present him as a fop dressed all in diamonds and platinum. Tara forms an ill impression of him as she thinks no real fighting man would dress in such a fashion. Shortly Gahan will exchange his dress duds for the plain leather gear of the Martian mercenary thus changing from prince to pauper. Of course he will resume his role of Prince by novel’s end.
Fauntleroy was born to the manor in England but spent his youth learning what it meant to be a real American boy before reassuming his English title. Ah, American dreaming.
Recalling his battle for Emma’s favors with Frank Martin Tara has been betrothed since at least young girlhood to Djor Kantos whose father is friends with the family. So like ERB Gahan has to overcome this parental resistance. Speaking of Frank Martin Chessmen is the only novel I can recall in which the hero doesn’t get bashed on the head two or three times.
At the ball being given Djor Kantos fails to claim Tara in time for the first dance so that Gahan leads Tara in the Dance Of Barsoom. Some sort of Grand March. ERB explains that before Barsoomian youths can attend balls they have to first have learned three formal dances- The Dance Of Barsoom, that of their country and that of their city. After that they can take up stuff like the Martian equivalents of the Grizzly Bear, Bunny Hug, Charleston and Black Bottom. Kids being kids on Barsoom the same as on Jasoom.
While the concept is quite charming one wonders of the source. Burroughs himself was no slouch concerning the hit parade.
I think we can trace the rigamarole back to the patron saint of old timey music, Henry Ford.
Amongst all his many other enterprises Henry was revolted by the music and dances of the Jazz Age as the twenties are sometimes known. Even though his very own flivver is billed as being responsible for some new objectionable habits and traditions Henry clung stubbornly to the old. Thus in full revolt against the Jazz Age Henry was promoting the dances and music of his youthof around, oh say, 1880 or so.
Ford had begun his publication of the Dearborn Independent in 1920 making him a newspaper man also. It seems clear from internal references in Marcia Of The Doorstep that ERB was following developments in the Independent. He would then certainly have learned of the evils of the new music and the virtues of the old.
Just as Henry Ford was trying to rivive the old dances on Jasoom, on conservative, behind the times Barsoom Jazz has never even been given a chance. The Dance Of Barsoom is just as fresh and lovely as the first time it was danced millennia before. Martian kids didn’t mess with tradition so much so Gahan led Tara in that lovely old relic of Mars- The Dance Of Barsoom.
Pledging his love during the dance Gahan was sternly rebuffed by Tara.
The preliminaries finished the story begins in earnest.
The following day Tara is fascinated by a cloudy stormy sky which is such a rare occurrence on Mars that she had never seen one before. As I mentioned in the intro ERB borrows the next sequence from Baum whose Dorothy was wafted to Oz on a tornado. Tara ascends into this tornado like storm where her flier is caught by the winds and she is driven before them. When she lands she had been driven like Dorothy to Oz to a far land that has been all but forgotten if it had ever been thought of.
The hero and heroine of Chessmen are Tara of Helium and Gahan of far Gathol, or rather, they are the Anima and Animus of ERB. ERB always writes Anima and Animus novels. As dreamers will he may have recognized the X chromosome or Anima in the green pastures of his sleep or, it is quite possible that as a Latin scholar at Chicago’s Harvard School he was required to read the myth of Psyche and Eros from Apuleius’ The Golden Ass. I only mention a couple of possibilities. He may or may not have been familiar with Psyche and Eros but he was certainly familiar with the fairy tales derived from it such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty.
While Apuleius is given credit for the story his version is certainly only a redaction of the tale or philosophical speculation dating much further back in history. The Ancients were well familiar with the concept of both the male and female versions of the Anima and Animus. In popular mythology the male chromosome is represented by the Goddess as X chromosome and the Bull as the y. The female is represented by the two snakes as in the pictorial representations of Crete. It will also be remembered that the Greeks imported Cretan priests to manage the Apollonian shrine at Delphi.
The myth is that the two aspects were once united then driven apart wandering the world in search of each other. Duly at long last they do find each other are reconciled and allowed by the Goddess of Love to reunite. Thus the stories of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty evolved from Psyche and Eros and who knows how many other stories besides those of Burroughs.
The question is was Burroughs only following a plot line, a pattern he had absorbed or was he consciously aware of what he was doing? Had he thought the problem out? Just as Tarzan and Jane were apparently mismatched in Burroughs’ dreamscapes so were ERB and Emma in real life. In Tarzan And The Golden Lion Tarzan and Jane had no sooner returned home from Pal-ul-don than Tarzan fled to his Anima in far off dreamland Opar leaving Jane/Emma to more or less shift for herself in a very dangerous world. Misfortune usually hit her too.
In ERB’s dream couple of John Carter and Dejah Thoris the Anima and Animus seem to be united although we see little of Dejah Thoris in the series and not at all in this novel. Even their son who may represent ERB is not present at all. Even with Carter and Dejah Thoris the classic separation and reuniting form a major part of the Martian Trilogy.
In this dream tale with Tara and Gahan ERB follows the classic formula- separation, the long pursuit and final reconciliation. He appears to know what he is talking about but since he never discussed his ideas on the subject we can only infer that he did or doubt or deny that he did. The psychological motifs he expresses throughout Chessmen leads me to believe he did.
What are dreams and what is a dream story? Freud originated the rational approach to dream interpretation. ERB gave some thought to the problem. Once can’t be sure he had read Freud’s Interpretations Of Dreams although in his short story Tarzan’s First Nightmare ERB used elements contained in Freud’s theory to explain the causes of Tarzan’s nightmare. At the very least we can say that dreams and nightmares from which ERB suffered all his life were of great interest to him. In the thirties he would buy at least one book on scientific dream interpretation.
What is the basis of dreams? It can only be experiences combined with memory. That’s it. Think about it. You don’t have to look any further. Nothing mysterious about them. The basic problem can be expressed in the question of what is the unconscious or subconscious. Is it some ultra mysterious process of the mind that can’t be penetrated, understood or accurately located? Is it as Freud believed an organ independent of the body and mind yet which somehow controls the actions of the individual from outside him? Or, once again, is it merely a combination of experience and memory, a faculty for interpeting the experiences of the day?
Freud touched on a key concept when he realized that the mind, which never rests, processes the incidents of the previous day in the sleeping and dreaming state. Burroughs also takes this approach in Tarzan’s nightmare whether he picked it up from Freud, Sweetser or realized it himself.
In point of fact experience happens to us so rapidly and from so many angles at the same time that it is impossible for the conscious mind to process it all as it is happening. Can’t be done. So, it follows that the subconscious or back up mind retains, as it were, photographs of the day’s activities that it reviews in sleep for either discarding, repression or action. How many times have you awakened with possible solutions to problems facing you?
The problem with the subconscious mind is that analysis of situations is affected by fixations, more expecially by the central childhood fixation. Childhood is that perilous time of life when the inexperienced mind is subject to being presented with challenges for which it has no programmed or immediately adequate response. Defeated in analysis the challenge is encrypted and encysted in the subconscious where it interprets all similar challenges through the lens of the defeated challenge and response. Thus all those strange compulsive behaviors we have.
As it chances we know Burroughs’ central childhood fixation. That was when he was eight or nine and he was challenged on a street corner on the way to school by a twelve year old Irish bully. Terrified ERB broke and ran apparently thereafter branded as a coward. Thus the central theme of his work is fight or flight and the state of cowardice. He examines the matter endlessly throughout the entire body of his work. These elements are all especially prominent in Chessmen.
We know that ERB was stressed to the breaking point as he wrote in 1921. Whenever he was stressed his personality fragmented, splitting at least once. In Chessmen the Kaldanes are two separate entities, the physical Rykors and the mental Kaldanes. Tara and Gahan, the ritual Burroughs’ surrogates are driven apart by the terrific storm.
This is a dream story abounding in dream images. One can provide an analysis of the storm scene based on the incidents occurring in ERB’s life at the time.
The image presented to us is of this very rare Martian storm of very high winds as in a tornado. Tara although warned against it takes her flier up. Perhaps ERB was warned against buying Tarzana, I would certainly think that Emma was at the least apprehensive. Tara navigates well beneath the clouds but wants to be in a cloud where she has never been before, i.e. Burroughs buys Tarzana. Here she is buffeted about so to escape she rises above the cloud or storm where the winds abate. But she has to get back down so she must reenter the storm. She is then taken by the winds tumbled head over heels by their extreme violence arriving half dead in the land of the Kaldanes.
Now, how does this represnet ERB’s actual situation in dream images.
ERB left Chicago under one presumes, sunny skies. His original intent was to buy twenty acres to raise hogs. Instead he bought over five hundred acres. He then began a massive building and improvement program with what appears to have been a substantial payroll and a not very well thought out plan. He overspent his income so that by 1921 his bills must have been greater than his income forcing him to borrow. He found he had neither the skills nor the talent bo be a ‘Gentleman Farmer’ so that he was forced to auction off most of his tools, implements and livestock in an effort to raise money and cut expenses. Also at this time his sources of income came under attack as the movies refused to film his intellectual properties while his royalties also came under attack.
In what I consider a purely defensive move he was forced to incorporate himself assigning all his income, copyrights and what not to the corporation in an effort to secure the means of his livelihood by putting his income beyond the reach of his creditors. In what I consider a questionable move he subsequently transferred a portion of Tarzana to the corporation. So, shortly after this storm broke on his head he became merely an employee of his corporation.
At the time he wrote Chessmen then he was caught in the turbulence of this storm he had created. Unable to get back down as with Tara he tried to rise above it in some way but was forced back into the problem where he was being blown along head over heels no longer in control of his affairs.
In the relative calm of 1924 he wrote Marcia Of The Doorstep that chronicles and looks back at this period.
Tara’s flight then is ERB’s day to day situation presented in dream images.
The rest of the book deals with past and present in a series of dream images to which we proceed.