Robertson Davies
New York: Penguin, 1983 from 1976 original
ISBN # 0-14-014755-1
252 pages.

Since I have several reviews of Davies' work I have set up a page to collect my comments and other links to Davies' work

Comments by Bob Corbett
September 2005

David Staughton’s father has been killed, probably murdered. (We who’ve ready the first volume of this trilogy, FIFTH BUSINESS know the truth of that event.) David, a very successful 40 year-old criminal lawyer, is having a hard time coping with his father’s death and his life in general. In a move that surprises even himself, he heads off to Zurich to the Jung Institute and puts himself under Jungian psychiatric care.

The novel is fundamentally the process of David’s analysis, or is it treatment, under the guidance of Dr. Johanna von Haller. The structure is clever, though not original, but does tend to limit the novel more than most other Davies’ novels I’ve read. David’s analysis is much more focused on himself and a few characters very close to himself -- his father, his mother and step-mother, his sister and her husband and Netty Quelch his long-term nanny, now housekeeper.

However, Davies can’t help but create rather exotic characters and I was crazy about Adrian Pledger-Brown, a genealogist, or would-be genealogist who helps David track down information on another marvelous character, his long dead great grandmother, Mary Dymock, a bold woman who stood up to a small English village in the 19th century and was sent packing to Canada.

A third delightful character was David’s tutor at Oxford, Pargetter, the model of a great tutor and teacher.

Despite these rewarding characters I did miss the more occult and exotic elements that often fill the Davies’ novels. He does return in the last thirty pages to references back to the first volume of the trilogy, FIFTH BUSINESS , and there we move into the mysterious, occult and bizarre, but it is all too late and too disconnected with what went before. It read more like an addendum tacked on to the novel to tie it closer to the first volume and to add the exotic touch that pleases so many Davies’ readers.

I can’t fault Davies in his treatment of Jungian analysis. He does his homework and we are treated to a solid view of Jungian analysis and a clever bit where Dr. von Haller takes the Platonic modes of apprehension (reason, understanding, opinion and conjecture) and understands them as thinking, feeling, sensation and intuition. David is quite short of feeling and suspicious of intuition.

And as the analysis proceeds another clever literary device is used. In order to speed things up (and from a literary stand point) to give us much more detail of the analysis, lawyer David is assigned to prepare court briefs to “defend” himself in the court of judge David Staughton. That works quite well and the novel does speed up.

The aim of the analysis is:

“I am going to try to help you in the process of becoming yourself.”

“My best self, I expected you to say. A good little boy.”

“Your real self may not be a good little boy. It would be very unfortunate if that were so. Your real self may be something very disagreeable and unpleasant."

David isn’t an easy and co-operative patient in the early days and one insightful session sets some of the parameters of what he will have to confront:

David: “I am ready and anxious to go ahead. I learn quickly. I am not stupid.”

Dr. von Haller: “… You are stupid. You can think and you can learn. You do these things like an educated modern man. But you cannot feel, except like a primitive. Your plight is a common one, especially in our day when thinking and learning have been given such absurd prominence, and we have learned our way into world-wide messes. We must educate your feeling and persuade you to experience like a man and not like a maimed, dull child.”

David then follows Dr. von Haller through a number of “persona,” such as the shadow, his own darker side, the friend, anima, his ideal of womanhood and so on, each of these being revealed as part of his personality and person.

This just wasn’t among my favorite reads in Robertson Davies, yet I did enjoy my time exploring the person and process of David Staughton’s analysis. However, along the way I was treated to one of the best sentences I think Davies’ ever wrote. David in speaking of his undergraduate days says: “I had my spell of socialism, but it was measles rather than scarlet fever.” Stumbling on that sentence was worth the entire read!

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett