Pt. II Edgar Rice Burroughs And The Accreted Personality

March 14, 2012

Part II

Edgar Rice Burroughs And The Accreted Personality

by

R.E. Prindle

 

Time may fly but life seems long. Long enough for circumstances to alter your personality more than once. Consider for instance the National Guardsman secure in job, wife and family who is jerked out of his ideal existence to take a tour of duty in Iran or Afghanistan, foreign wars which betray the promises of his enlistment which were to defend his home state. Do you think a personality change didn’t occur when he received his notice? If he was kept in for several tours of duty over a period of years so that his former existence doesn’t appear to him as a dream that took place in a parallel universe? And if he comes home without an arm or a leg or, perhaps, both, that he doesn’t suffer from reminiscences or have a dual or multiple personality. You can bet he does. Nor does your life have to be as hard as the National Guardsman for your own personality to acquire personality accretions over your lifetime, all of which are stored in your mind and may be reassumed at any time.

As I said in the first part, these various existential states don’t disappear, they become part of your reminiscences whether suppressed or remembered and as possible fixations or idees fixe they influence your daily actions.

So now, let’s turn to the life of Edgar Rice Burroughs to illustrate the idea of the accreted personality. Psychology is simple if you don’t make it complex by mystifying it. I hope I can make Burroughs’ story clear without unnecessarily complicating it. I will try to use Occam’s Razor judiciously.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, who would become very famous as a fiction writer, entered this world of pain of pleasure on September 7, 1875 in Chicago, Illinois. He was parented by George T. and Mary Burroughs, he of Anglo-Irish ancestry and she of Pennsylvania Dutch, that is say, German. Eddie always considered himself pure English at a time when being English meant something, a much depreciated coin these days.

George T. was an upright man who had been an officer on the Union side in the Civil War a scant ten years previously. George Custer had not yet gone down at the Little Big Horn nor was Sitting Bull yet starring in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. George T. had two other sons, George and Harry, who were born just after the Civil War.

George T. was a whisky distiller while at this time the Whisky Trust was coming into existence. George T. was an independent sort who needed the Trust less than they wanted him. I don’t say the Trust was responsible but George T. was burned out. Chicago loved a good fire.

The relationship between Ed and his parents was not a warm one. His father made his life difficult, seemingly on purpose, while his mother seems to have been rather cold. Burroughs seldom mentions her nor were any of his characters named Mary, or George for that matter.

Nevertheless, born into a world of creature comforts with high expectations in a fine house on Chicago’s West Side with two Irish maids Ed began life in a happy state of mind walking down the street singing Zippity Do Dah or the equivalent. He stayed that way for about eight years until his first personality changing event occurred.

Eddie attended Brown School in his neighborhood. I haven’t been able to find out much about Brown but the schools stands out as special in Ed’s mind. The school had several prominent graduates one of which was the showman, Flo Ziegfeld. As Ziegfeld was Jewish it is quite possible the school was close to Maxwell St. Maxwell St. would figure prominently in Ed’s later novel, The Mucker.

One day when Ed was eight he found a big twelve year old Irish kid by the name of John belligerently blocking his way. It isn’t known whether he was walking with future wife Emma Hulbert or not but I suspect he was. At any rate John threatened to beat him up. Thoroughly terrorized Ed took to his heels and as he did so several suggestions entered his terrorized mind. To be in terror is to enter a hypnoid state in which all ones psychic defenses are lowered or discarded. Suggestions are easily fixated in your mind. Thus at the age of eight Ed’s original personality was submerged, he assumed his central childhood fixation. Not only was he emasculated on his Animus but, perhaps because he shamed himself in front of Emma, he transferred his Anima to John; he then set up John as his ideal of manhood wishing to be just like him.

The result was that John became his favorite name. In his future novels he named a disproportionate number of characters both good and bad John. His two key characters were both named John- John Clayton, aka Tarzan Of The Apes and John Carter of Mars. Both have the initials JC referring to Jesus Christ, one supposes. Thus on the masculine side their names commemorate John the Bully while on the feminine side Jesus Christ. Ed also wore a book under the assume name of John McCullough.

As Ed was shamed by running, defenses against cowardice are liberally sprinkled throughout his works with justifications for the advance to the rear maneuver, or running.

Particularly troubling to him was the occupation of his Anima by a male. Probably not very usual but given the limited range of responses available to humans, probably not that uncommon. But this result of the fixation was particularly troubling to him appearing in a succession of his initial output of the ‘teens.

The clearest exposition of the results of this fixation was reproduced in the pages of Ed’s second novel, The Outlaw Of Torn. The hero of the novel is a boy of Ed’s age on the street corner, who is the king of England’s son c. 1400 AD. The King has a quarrel with his fencing instructor, De Vac, who then avenges himself by kidnapping the son, Norman.

The scene is that Norman is playing in the garden under the watchful eye of his nurse/Anima when De Vac appears outside the garden gate- I. e. Ed’s mind- luring Norman to him. Norman has passed the gate when his nurse who had been chatting with another woman notices. She rushed through the gate where De Vac struck her dead. Thus his Anima was outside Ed’s mind when she was destroyed.

Now, this is the replication of a dream story. The meaning is that Norman/Ed was safe inside when De Vac/John caught him, as it were, with his pants down, killing and assuming the role of his Anima. The nurse represents his Anima or right brain which was then disabled.

So, as an eight year old boy Eddie has an emasculated Animus, left brain, and destroyed or shattered Anima, right brain. This has to be dealt with in some way so he can carry on and survive.

What Burroughs does then is create a myth to repair the damage as well as he can. De Vac now on the run with his prize who he must conceal takes Norman to a three story house in the slums of London built on stilts out over the water of the River Thames. The two live in this attic/mind for three or four years. During this entire period De Vac is dressed as an old woman. So, here we have the emasculated Animus combined with the dead Anima with the waters of the feminine flowing beneath the house, I.e. Burroughs’ self.

The two live this way for three or four years, Norman never leaving the attic. At the end of this period De Vac dons men’s clothes and takes Norman to a ruined castle in the Shires. The remarkable thing about this castle is that on one side, the right side, the roof has completely fallen in, can’t be used.

The interpretation is that Ed so identified himself with John that he had to put his own life on hold until he turned twelve, the same age John had been. At that point he recovered or began to recover some control of his Animus while his Anima remained destroyed.

De Vac then began to train Norman in the manly arts to be a killing machine to attain physical vengeance for De Vac on the King.

One can’t be sure of what effect the encounter had on his personality but the next year after the confrontation his father took him from Brown transferring him to an all girl’s school. George T.’s reason for this was that there was a fever going around and he wanted to protect Ed from it. How one would be safe from a communicable disease in a girl’s school isn’t clear so perhaps Ed’s father had another reason.

In Ed’s psychological state it is not unlikely that he went into a fairly serious depression while emasculated and crippled he may have become very effeminate. The placement in the girl’s school may have been one of disgust and to teach the boy a lesson to act like a man.

The humiliation on top of the emasculation was difficult for Ed to bear. He pleaded and pleaded to be transferred from the girl’s school. His pleas were heard although his father didn’t send him back to Brown but a couple miles across town to Chicago’s Harvard Latin School where Ed stayed through what would have been his Junior High years. During this period, the date isn’t clear, Ed fell off his bicycle banging his head against the curb; it isn’t known whether it was the right or left side. This left him dizzy and walking round in circles for three or four days, then the obvious effects disappeared. George T. then jerked him out the Latin School and sent him West to his brothers’ cattle ranch in Idaho. He doesn’t seem to have attended any school for the year he was in Idaho. However he learned to be a cowboy and had a great time.

Even without school the period was not without intellectual stimulation. George and Harry Burroughs were graduates of the Sheffield Scientific School attached to Yale University but not yet integrated with it, along with their partner Lew Sweetser. Sweetser was a fairly remarkable guy deeply interested in psychology when the subject was just beginning to assume its modern form.

William James had just published his two volumes on Psychology but I haven’t been able to discover who Sweetser’s teachers may have been at Yale. Departments of Psychology were rare at American Universities in the 1880s. However, as Sweetser apparently studied whatever psychology was available it seems certain that he would have been at least aware of Charcot’s experiments at the Salpetriere that were world famous. It is also clear that he was familiar with the idea of the sub- or unconscious. However much Ed may have retained, as he himself was relatively well informed on psychological matters when he began writing the foundations of his knowledge were probably formed at Sweetser’s knee.

Having left Ed in the wilderness for a year, George T. then moved him to the East Coast to Massachusetts’ Phillips Academy. Ed was now being moved around almost with the frequency of a military brat with its devastating personality consequences. Having consorted with a rough bunch of fellows for a year, Ed was now in an elite school without a great deal of preparation.

He was in Idaho at the end of Wyoming’s Johnson County War when the big ranchers squeezed out the small ranchers. Many of the small ranch soldiers whose shootings were classified as murders had fled to Idaho where Ed knew one or two; from the company of murderers, or killers at any rate, he was now in with a bunch of elitist schoolboys.

When his brothers had attended Yale their father had refused them an allowance that would have allowed them to associate with their richer school fellows as equals. If he continued the practice with Ed at Phillips then an extra burden was placed on the kid that would help explain his behavior. At any rate he assumed the posture of clown to gain acceptance while neglecting his studies. Naturally he was requested to leave.

Certainly he could have expected to return home and attend school in Chicago but this was not his father’s plan. His father enrolled him at the Michigan Military Academy outside Detroit billed as The Paris Of The West which is most laughable. This was the second great psychological trauma in his life adding another major accretion to his personality. Ed rebelled at being sent away again.

This was not merely rejection but also a condemnation of him by his father. As Ed saw the situation, with a great deal of accuracy, the Military Academy was just a holding pen for juvenile delinquents whose parents didn’t know how to handle them so they put them away in what was essentially an asylum or reform school where they could get some ‘discipline.’

Ed was horrified at these suggestions about himself coming from his own father. He rebelled at the rejection and its implications. He left the academy to return home or as his biographer Porges puts it, he ran away. George T. wasn’t going to put up with that. He collared Ed and dragged him back to Detroit, told him to stay put or…who can say or what? At any rate crushed and rejected Ed had no choice but to obey, but his mother and father died for him that day, slain by their own hand. Thus when Ed’s literary alter ego Tarzan came into existence in 1912 his parents had been slain by murderous apes and Tarzan was an orphan as Ed imagined himself.

General Charles King, Soldier and Author

Ed stayed at the Academy into 1896 when he was between twenty and twenty-one. He took the Commandant of the Academy, Charles King, as his surrogate father and mother. Because King was a captain in the Army, later a general, Ed decided he wanted to be an Army officer too. It is also noteworthy that King was a successful author of novels which Ed may have wanted to emulate when he too chose to become an author. One of King’s first novels was An Apache Princess while Ed’s first commercial effort was titled A Princess Of Mars.

Ed attempted in vain to win an appointment to West Point but failed. Then in 1896 while serving as an instructor at the Michigan Military Academy Ed foolishly abandoned his post choosing to join the Army as an enlisted man before the school term ended.

By now twenty years old his past with its many personality accretions had formed him. His original personality had been destroyed to be replaced by that caused by John. The accretions accumulated as he was shifted from school to school and West to East to MidWest leaving him dazed and confused while the final accretion of that youthful period was the devastating rejection by his parents all of which left him depressed and fatalistic. The high expectations of his childhood had been completely eliminated. The bright young boy had been transformed into a gloomy young man. But no former personality had disappeared; they all lived on in his unconscious where circumstances could revive any or all at the appropriate moment.

But, one is still alive and one must toddle on. Ed was not lazy or adverse to work. His intellectual interests were vast. He was a great wide ranging reader.

In the next part then, let’s turn to his personality forming accretions from reading and his general intellectual , social and political milieu.

 

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