A Man Divided, by Olaf Stapledon

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From 1929 to 1939

IN 1933, I RECEIVED a long and distressing letter from Maggie. Victor had relapsed into the Dolt condition. The following account is based on her letter, and on subsequent conversations with her and with Victor, when I returned to England in the spring of 1939.

Victor had been very busy with his adult education work, and at the end of the winter he was definitely over-tired. At this time Maggie had gone down with a bad attack of gastric flu. Victor had given up everything to nurse her and look after the child, who by the way had been named Colin. Shortly after Maggie was once more on her feet, Victor himself succumbed to the disease. He had an extremely bad attack, and his recovery was slow. The change of personality had occurred while he was still confined to his bed.

Maggie was actually sitting with him at the time. He had been rather sluggish and despondent during the day, but Maggie had supposed this to be a natural symptom of convalescence. She was sewing. Colin, now over two years old, was playing on his father’s bed.

Maggie asked a question which Victor failed to answer. She looked up from her sewing, and was startled to see him staring at her with an expression of bewilderment and horror. At this point Colin clambered along from the foot of the bed to play with his father. Apparently he thought the expression of repugnance on his father’s face was all in the game, for he laughed. Victor cried sharply, “Take the child away!” and pushed the still laughing Colin toward Maggie. She seized the wriggling and cheerful creature and held him to her. Victor started to get out of bed. She said, “Don’t get out, dear, you’re not really strong yet.” He stood up, then fell back exhausted. He stood again, and demanded his clothes. She tried to persuade him to lie down. He cried out, “Don’t touch me. Kindly leave the room.” She hesitated, and slowly moved toward the door. Meanwhile the exertion of opening a drawer convinced the Dolt that he had better go back to bed. He crawled dejectedly between the sheets.

So it happened that the unfortunate Dolt had to stay in bed and be nursed by the ugly waitress. She, of course, had known at once what had happened to Victor, and she heroically determined that she would turn the disaster into some sort of a triumph. The Dolt himself also knew vaguely what had happened; but he needed to know more. “You had better stay,” he said in a voice that was meant to be haughty but sounded merely querulous. “You had better tell me what has happened. All I can remember is, being in my father’s house. He is Sir Geoffrey Cadogan–Smith.”

Maggie found herself regarding the Dolt as still essentially Victor, though Victor very sick. She felt none of the distaste that the true Victor himself felt for his secondary personality. Maggie longed to put her arms round Victor and comfort him, but she realized that this would be a grave tactical error.

She returned to the chair beside the bed, still holding the child. She said, “You have had a very bad attack of flu, and now you’re — not quite yourself.” He asked her how long it was since he was with his father. She hesitated, then said, “A very long time, in fact about ten years.” The Dolt was visibly distressed. He said, “Where am I now? Why are you here? You’re a waitress, not a nurse. I remember you.”

“Victor, dear,” she said, “this is your home, and I am Maggie, your wife, and we love one another very much, and this is our little boy, Colin.” He looked at her with perplexity and revulsion, then at the child, then about the room. There was a long silence. Then Victor said, “As soon as I am fit I shall go home to my father: I will see that you are provided for.”

“But Victor, darling,” she said ruefully, “this is the only home you have now. And we have been so happy. Can’t you remember any of it?”

He looked at her blankly, then enquired, “Is my father dead?” To her affirmative nod he responded with a sigh rather of exasperation than of grief.

For ten days Maggie nursed the Dolt in his bed. Then he got up; and remained in the house for about a week more. Maggie behaved with the utmost devotion, without ever claiming his affection. She hoped thus in time to win his love, even if he remained the Dolt. But she seemed to make no impression. At last he announced that he would leave next day, and nothing she could say dissuaded him. He went through all his possessions, packed all his clothes, and gathered all the lecture notes and other manuscripts into a pile. Maggie discovered that he intended to burn these in the garden. Suddenly she flared up in indignation, upbraided the startled Dolt for a heartless, spiteful half-wit, and carried away the bundle to lock it in a cupboard. This incident seems to have impressed the Dolt. He could not help noticing that the woman had abandoned her usual sweetness only for the sake of his interest, or what she conceived to be his interest.

The Dolt departed. Maggie was greatly distressed, but she had put a cheerful face on it, and told him she felt sure he would come back soon. She then reverted to her supposed telepathic powers, seeking from afar to wake him to his true self. This she did by trying to make him feel her presence, vividly and constantly, and to rouse in him memories of their past happiness together. She also tried (but this task she felt to be far more difficult) to flood him with that “vision of the spirit” which he himself had formerly tried to impart to her.

After a few days she made enquiries at the bank, and learned that he had drawn a large sum, shifted his account to another town, and left no address. But he had arranged for her to draw a small amount weekly from the old bank.

The Dolt stayed away for about a month. I learned later from the awake Victor that he had spent the time in a rather expensive hotel in the seaport city of his former business career. At first he was entirely absorbed in trying to establish contact with his business acquaintances. He had little success. His hope of finding his way back into the shipping office came to nothing. He was forced to begin looking for some other job, but nothing attractive came his way.

Gradually he began to feel strangely divided against himself. He remained still the Dolt, in that all events of his awake phases were still inaccessible to him; but he was no longer wholly satisfied with his Doltish values. He had a vague yearning for something different from the triumphs of a successful business man. Even Maggie, though still physically unattractive to him, he remembered with something like affection, or at least with a self-centred yearning to be loved by her, or someone. The feeling of loneliness and futility became intolerable, and hotel life repugnant. Also, he realized that he could not afford such expensive accommodation with no income in prospect.

At last he wrote to Maggie to say that he would be returning next day, “to discuss certain matters with her.”

He arrived in a taxi, with all his luggage. She opened the front door to him, and was ready to fall into his arms, but a single glance told her that he was still the Dolt. In spite of his Doltish condition, she could gladly have hugged him, but instead she offered a hand, which he took without emotion.

There followed a strange phase in which Victor alternated between standing on his Doltish dignity and allowing the kindly influence of Maggie and of home life and the irrepressibly friendly Colin to soak more and more deeply into him. Maggie treated him as a guest in the little house, fearful lest too much domesticity should repel him. He occupied the spare room, and took no part in the housework, nor in the care of Colin. Much of his time was spent in solitary walks; but much also in talks with Maggie about their common past. She was determined to rebuild little by little the whole fabric of his lost experience. But, do what she would, she could not change it from mere reported history to living memory. After recounting some incident or other, connected perhaps with his work or the upbringing of the child, she would appeal, “Don’t you remember?” But he would always shake his head, either impatiently or sadly. Once she dared to allude to some amatory incident dear to the awakened Victor. But the Dolt at once “went into his shell.” Henceforth she carefully refrained from mentioning such things.

A good deal of the Dolt’s time was spent in the little study, reading Victor’s books. One day, with diffidence, he asked Maggie to let him see the notes which he had wanted to destroy. He said, “Let me read them in the evenings, when you can watch me all the time, in case — I should lose my head and want to destroy them.” Maggie agreed. She also produced the manuscript of Victor’s still unfinished book. With more concentration than understanding the Dolt tackled this work, while Maggie sat sewing. Now and then he would ask her to explain ideas that were unfamiliar to him, and she would try to reproduce the explanations that the true Victor had formerly, given to her. Sometimes he came on passages in which scorn of “the doltish mentality” was frankly expressed. Gradually the Dolt realized that these passages were in a way directed against himself. On one occasion he was so upset that he angrily tore the page; and then, seeing Maggie’s outraged expression, he set about carefully mending it with transparent adhesive tape.

The summer was advancing. Inevitably the time was coming when normally Victor would be returning to his winter classes. Already he had been approached with regard to lecturing at a summer school. It was very difficult for him to refuse, but impossible to accept, as of course the Dolt was entirely unequipped. He had been forced to excuse himself on grounds of health. Maggie had privately informed the authorities that he had suffered another breakdown, but was recovering, and would probably be ready for his winter’s work.

The change in the Dolt’s temper had gone so far that he was now positively interested in the work and the character of the other personality. At first this interest was resentful and hostile, but little by little he came to recognize, though grudgingly, the values sacred to the other; and began also seriously to consider carrying on the other’s work. The task would be formidable, because he had lost all knowledge of the subjects to be dealt with, and all recollection of the students. However, he announced his intention of tackling the job, with Maggie’s help. She, of course, promised to do her utmost. The task would have been quite impossible but for one fortunate fact, not uncommon, I am told, in cases of multiple personality. Victor was able to relearn the old material very quickly. Similarly in the matter of students, Maggie was able, with the aid of a group-photograph of a festive gathering, to restore much of his knowledge of the personalities with whom he would be dealing. But in spite of his facile relearning of material that had been formerly acquired by the true Victor, the Dolt was not nearly as quick as the true Victor at picking up new facts; and he soon discovered that many of the awake personality’s most original ideas were almost incomprehensible to him. At first he was inclined to regard this as a sign that the other was after all mentally unbalanced or deranged. But talks with Maggie forced him to revise his opinion. Over and over again she was able to pass on to him the insight which the awake Victor had passed on to her.

Little by little a queer ambivalent relation developed between the Dolt and Maggie. More and more he became dependent on her. More and more he respected her, and even in an obscure way cared for her. But his affection was rather filial than marital. Physically she remained unattractive to him, or even repellent. She on her side was constantly exasperated not only by his intellectual inferiority to the true Victor but also by his emotional obtuseness. His affection, such as it was, was little more than a sentimental adulation of his dear nurse, his substitute mother. Indeed, though at first she had felt toward the Dolt as toward Victor sick, little by little she became conscious of a serious conflict in her heart between her identification of the Dolt with the true Victor and her dissatisfaction with the Dolt himself. Desperately she longed for the true Victor; increasingly she pitied and despised, and yet conscientiously mothered, the Doltish substitute. Yet physically the Dolt was identical with her own cherished man, and his physical coldness toward her constantly distressed her. The Dolt, it seemed, required of her only maternal tenderness and service. But her maternal feelings, were all for Colin. Yet the Dolt was indeed Victor. She still clung to the hope that some day he would wake again; and secretly she assiduously used all her supposed “magical” powers to restore her husband to his right mind. This she could never succeed in doing; but she inclined to believe that the steady improvement in the Dolt’s own character was due to her paranormal influence.

At last the time came for Victor to start his winter classes. Maggie had privately warned his colleagues and some of his students that he was not yet fully himself, but she assured them that he was fit for work. She was confident that this was true, for she had carefully coached him, and he had very earnestly set himself to the task of mastering the work that was formerly so familiar to his other self. He faced his students with courage; and, apart from occasional “lapses of memory” and muddled presentation, he was academically proficient. But he had lost much of his old brilliance as a teacher, and he was far more easily tired and exasperated than the Victor that his students had formerly known. I took the trouble at a later stage to enquire from some of his students about their feelings toward Victor at this time. They had gradually discovered that his temperament had changed. Formerly everyone had found him exceptionally easy to make contact with, but now there was a barrier. They felt that he sincerely tried to overcome it, but it was always present. As one woman put the matter, “Mr. Smith’s great gift in the old days was that he knew at once what you wanted, often better than you did yourself. But after his illness he lost this power. He never seemed able to realize you.”

One other important event took place during my absence in India, namely the birth of a second child. Not till 1939, when I returned to England on holiday, did I see the Smiths again.

This time it was Maggie who received me. Victor was away at a class, but would be back that night. I noticed at once that: she had aged a good deal. Her ruddy hair was as voluminous as ever, but its lustre had diminished; and age or anxiety had produced a few white threads. The eyes, I thought, had a new tenderness and sadness. They were surrounded by a filigree of little creases. The wide mouth was more severely moulded; and the lips were slightly drawn back, as though from a sour taste.

As Maggie was leading me up to my room, Colin appeared. He was a well-grown boy of eight. His features owed much to Victor, but the mouth was a youthful version of Maggie’s, and his hair showed a ruddy glint. He greeted me without shyness, but with an obvious reserve. Later I learned that early experiences of his father had made him form a habit of approaching all men with reserve.

When I had deposited my baggage in my room, Maggie led me to see her younger child, Sheila, who had just been put to bed. She was now about three. She lay in her cot with very wide-awake blue eyes and a mop of fair hair. Unlike Colin, she at once greeted me with a genial smile. Having come into the world later than her brother, she had missed the period of her father’s erratic behaviour toward his offspring.

We then went downstairs to share a high tea with Colin; and when he had gone off to bed, Maggie settled to her sewing, and told me all the family news. Victor, she said, was generally in the less-awake state. (Maggie, I noticed, never used the label “Dolt,” which Victor awake had invented for his secondary personality.) There were only occasional brief wakings into the true Victor. To Maggie these spells were very poignant, because when they occurred Victor treated her with great tenderness and ardour. With a wry smile, she said, “You see, I have my own darling Victor for a few days every two or three months. The rest of the time I have an unsatisfactory substitute, who does not love me, does not really seem to know how to love anyone. He generally treats me with sentimental respect. In the early days he sometimes gave me a bad time; but he has come to need me in a lot of ways, and sometimes (I think) he begins to feel a trace of affection for me. But now and then he swings over into dislike, and — well, sometimes life becomes a bit difficult.”

On the rare occasions when the true Victor awoke, he found his life in chaos. The Dolt was not the gifted teacher that Victor’s students had known and admired. So far as actual knowledge of his subjects was concerned, he was by now tolerably efficient, with the aid of the awake Victor’s notes and his own respectable “First–Class Honours” intelligence. But he was not nearly so good as Victor either at inspiring people with the will to understand and to work, or at helping them over difficulties. And he was erratic; sometimes painstaking, sometimes careless and contemptuous. The result was that attendance at his classes was not nearly so satisfactory as it had been. Consequently, in the sole class where the secretary’s loyalty to the class was greater than his moral scruple, a good deal of falsification of the registers had been indulged in. The Dolt connived at this, although it amounted to a rather serious acquiescence in obtaining money from the State on false pretences. When the awake Victor appeared at a class, he found himself in a very awkward position. It was necessary to contradict a good deal of the Dolt’s teaching; and also, in the one class there were difficulties over the register. It was taken for granted that he approved of the mildly dishonest practices that had become customary. Once or twice he had made a fuss, and this unexpected behaviour had caused much soreness.

On the occasions when the true Victor had taken a class, he used to tell Maggie in detail about the session, so that she could pass on the information to the Dolt. Sometimes he actually wrote a letter to his other self, informing him of the steps taken to defeat his malpractices. These letters he used to address ironically (though correctly) to “Captain J.V. Cadogan–Smith, M.C., M.A.” It amused him to begin them “Dear Cad,” and to sign them “Your better half, Vic Smith.” I learned later that when the Dolt had treated Maggie extremely badly, and the true Victor had presently appeared, he wrote a witheringly contemptuous letter to his other self, ending “I warn you! If you can’t treat my wife decently, I may be forced to put a bullet through our common head.”

In other ways, also, Victor’s affairs were in confusion. It was quite impossible for him to carryon those “spiritual researches” which were to have been his special contribution to the life of his society. This work was now impossible for two reasons. First, though the Dolt had read the true Victor’s unfinished book and other papers with increasing interest, he was quite incapable of the kind of experience which had given rise to it. Consequently it was only in the brief spells of his lucidity that Victor could make any progress either in what he called “spiritual research,” or in writing. But in another way also the work was rendered impossible. The awake Victor himself was no longer capable of the clarity of experience that it demanded. The Dolt did not keep the common body and mind in strict training, did not keep his appetites under control, and his attention constantly upon such vision as was possible to him. Sometimes he did make serious attempts to do this; but all too soon he would lapse. Consequently when the awake Victor appeared, he inherited a sort of hang-over. Neither mind nor body was keyed up to concert pitch. Nothing less than several months of clean living and continuous meditation could possibly fit him for his work. And such a spell was never allowed him. The task which he had most at heart seemed to have become permanently impossible.

There was yet another source of distress for the awake Victor. The Dolt had begun to exploit such wisdom as the true Victor had already expressed in his unfinished book. For the less awake personality did not wish to remain indefinitely in adult education. Though he had by now been seriously influenced by the true Victor’s values, he looked for something more spectacular and more lucrative than lecturing in evening classes. So he planned to write a number of popular books based on the philosophical and religious ideas of the awake personality, rashly confident that he had understood those ideas, and that he could even improve on them by making them more intelligible and less extravagant. The first book was to be a novel about a modern mystic who alternated between otherworldliness and participation in public life. He had already written most of this book. The awake Victor, who of course inherited the “memory” of the Dolt’s actual writing of the book, and had also scrutinized it afresh after his waking, was bitterly contemptuous of this garbled version of his thought. He recognized that the Dolt had carried out his plan with considerable skill. Indeed, he feared that the novel might actually turn out to be a best seller, and its author might earn a spurious reputation for profound religious experience and literary artistry. But to the awake Victor the book was subtly false through and through. He could not tolerate the prospect of being saddled with responsibility for what he regarded as a glib and insincere work.

At a later date, I asked Victor to throw some light on the difference between his own ideas and the Dolt’s interpretation of them. He answered with a long disquisition, most of which was almost meaningless to me. He would expound some conception of his own, and then give the Dolt’s version of it, ending contemptuously with, “You surely see how he messed up the whole thing.” In one case, however, I did gain some notion of his point. In his manuscript the true Victor had devoted much space to careful study of the distinctively human personal relationship of fellowship or community. He had described it realistically in terms of self-awareness and other-awareness and the creation of a psychical “symbiosis,” in which each individual becomes necessary to and is moulded by the other. The Dolt, I gather, had interpreted this to mean that a common spirit or soul emerged, with a life of its own over and above the life of the individual. The true Victor was infuriated by this “sentimental and romantic notion.” And his own distress dismayed him, for the very fact that he could not maintain serene detachment seemed to indicate that he himself had gravely deteriorated.

The Dolt had kept his book secret from Maggie, perhaps vaguely feeling that she would disapprove of it. But of course, when the true Victor reappeared, he told her all about it, and showed it to her. He then announced that he would destroy the manuscript. But Maggie begged for its life, for to her it did not seem so base an imitation as to Victor himself; and she felt (so she told me) that drastic criticism would be more appropriate than destruction. In her view, even if the work was over-simplified and crude, and partly insincere, it also gave evidence of a quite sincere groping after truth. Might not her poor somnolent Victor clarify his mind in the writing of this book? And might not she, if she was sufficiently tactful, help him by passing on to him the comments of the lucid Victor? Might she not persuade him to rewrite it on a higher level of experience?

Maggie confessed to another motive. It was desperately important for her to gain the complete confidence of the unhappy secondary personality with whom she had to spend most of her life. She therefore wanted to be able to tell him that she had saved his book from destruction.

In the end her policy was agreed upon. Victor himself wrote an outspoken criticism of the book, and entrusted it to Maggie. She promised that, after due preparation of the author’s mind, she would show him the devastating comments of the true Victor. The Dolt’s book was never published, never even completed. Criticism on the part of the true Victor combined with a gradual change in the Dolt’s own outlook to disgust him with his literary ventures.

Maggie made it clear to me that the less awake Victor was divided against himself. He was sometimes quite sincerely and earnestly concerned to follow as nearly as possible in the path set by the awake Victor, though well aware that he could never attain to the other’s sensitivity and constancy of purpose. But often he rebelled; though never, so to speak, fundamentally. Formerly, the completely unregenerate Dolt had been determined to live a kind of life entirely different from that chosen by the awake Victor, a life of go-getting, self-display and individualistic enjoyment. But by now he was at heart orientated (though unclearly orientated) toward a different kind of life; and his rebelliousness, though often violent, was only a spasmodic kicking against the pricks and over the traces, with no clear alternative to the aims which he had grown to accept from his more lucid self. In fact he had in many ways greatly improved as a person. On the other hand, when he did revolt he could no longer revert to the respectable and efficient business man; and consequently he was at these times completely disorientated, disillusioned and disheartened. And so he was apt to fall for every passing temptation.

“For one thing,” said Maggie, putting her sewing aside and clasping her hands tightly together in obvious distress, “at those times he is apt to drink far too much. And of course that makes him worse. There have been complaints of his lecturing in a fuddled state. If he doesn’t stop this sort of thing, he will lose his job, sooner or later. It’s tragic. You see, his lapses are not very frequent, but they do so much harm. Normally my poor substitute Victor is all too respectable, and very conscientious up to a point. He really does want to make good. It’s not his fault that he can’t be really original or brilliant. (Though, mind you, he is just as intelligent as ever, in his own conventional way.) It’s not his fault that he doesn’t love me, and yet uncomfortably worships me. And all the while, you see, I know he is really at heart still Victor, my own glorious Victor; and so I easily forgive him, and in spite of everything I love him, and I just wait longingly for him to wake and be himself again. But, oh, dear, it’s so distressing when he breaks out; and even more so when the bout is over, and he is abjectly ashamed.” She paused, then added, near to tears, “He would hate me for telling you all this. But my own Victor wouldn’t. Indeed he would want me to tell you. And it’s a relief to be able to talk to someone about it all.”

I asked Maggie what she had meant by saying that he had sometimes treated her badly; and I added that the awake Victor would want her to tell me. She took up her sewing again, and concentrated her attention on it. After a long silence, all she said was, “Oh, he just hates me and gets angry, and says horrid things, and sometimes does horrid things too.” She was evidently reluctant to tell me more, and I did not press her.

Presently she said, “A little while ago he bought a sports car, though we really can’t afford it. He spends a lot of time rushing about in it. He has always been a very good driver, you know; and doing trips in record time gives him a boyish delight. He generally manages to motor to his classes; and the night-driving amuses him. Once or twice he has taken me in the car for a week-end. It means making arrangements with a friend to come and stay here with the children. And, of course, that is sometimes difficult. And often he changes his mind when the arrangements have been made. Anyhow those week-ends never go properly. I get bored in a car; I prefer walking. And he hates walking, and wants to spend all the time in the car. So we go far afield, and never have any time to walk when we get there. Besides,” she added with a nervous laugh, “he insists on having separate bedrooms at the hotels. On one occasion he started a bit of painfully false love-making on the journey. But it was too awful, and we both turned to ice. It seems so utterly fantastic for that to happen between me and Victor. You see, deep down under his revulsion from me he does really love me. I know he does. And I think he knows it too, but he won’t face up to it. The loathing always wins. Sometimes he seems to love the car far more than me. When he is not driving it, he is always fiddling about with it. On one of the rare visits of my own Victor, we used the car to take us all to Patterdale. Of course Victor and I made a bit of a honeymoon of it. On the second day the other reappeared, and of course he was furious to find himself sharing a room with me; and furious also because the car (he said) had been overloaded. He insisted on my taking the children back by train at once.”

I asked Maggie if she felt sure that things really were improving, or the reverse. She said, “My true Victor comes no more often; but on the whole I do think the other is more reconciled to his life, and to me. Also he is more interested in the children than he used to be. He used to say, ‘They’re not my brats, and I don’t see why I should bother about them.’”

I inferred that Sheila, who had been born since the Dolt had ousted the true Victor, had been conceived during one of the rare awake phases of her father’s strange life.

Maggie continued, “I feel somehow that if only I could win him emotionally, things might be much better. But he still finds me repulsive. Most men have always thought me just ugly, but he finds me repulsive.” She suddenly rose, saying she must put the kettle on, as Victor would be back soon.

While I was thinking over Maggie’s story, there was the sound of a car stopping at the gate, and Maggie went to let Victor in. She brought him straight into the sitting-room.

“Hello, Henry, old man!” he said. “Glad to see you again at last.” Victor greeted me with formal politeness, and a pathetic attempt at the lordly condescension of former days. I was shocked by his appearance. Not only was his hair much greyer (so, no doubt, was mine), but his face had gone flabby. The heavy eyelids half covered the eyes, in the manner typical of the Dolt; but occasionally they were raised in a disconcerting and exaggerated stare, as though in caricature of the true Victor.

There was an awkward little pause. I said something about being glad to see him again after all these years. “Years and years,” he said, “and we both show it, me with my hair falling out, and you with that dried-up leathery face of the East.” We both laughed. He said, “Do you remember how I had to valet you when you were my best man?” His voice faded out. It was as though he had forgotten and suddenly remembered that though (as the Dolt) he had not seen me since the wedding fiasco, the true Victor had since met me in London and had a long conversation. I tactfully laughed, and tried to think of something to say.

Victor had his supper from a tray, sitting by the fire. He kept up a flow of desultory talk, and I interjected an occasional platitude. I vaguely felt that we were both manoeuvring for position. When he had finished his meal, and Maggie had gone out to wash up, he said, “I suppose you think the other Victor is the true Victor, and that I am only a feeble and perverted imitation.” I was never any good at tact, and now I squirmed and stammered. Before I could say anything, he continued.

“You’re wrong. The other me is a brilliant but hopelessly unbalanced and extravagant creature. I have not his imaginative power, but I am balanced, sane. In fact I am the true synthesis of him and the practical go-getter that I used to be.”

Taken aback, I could find no better comment than, “That’s very interesting.”

Victor looked at me shrewdly for a moment, then remarked, “Maggie has been talking to you. She’s a wonderful woman, in spite of her looks, poor thing; but she has got me all wrong. Just because I am not sexually attracted to her, she thinks I cannot be as sensitive as the bloke she married. Her trouble is that she can’t keep her mind clear of sex. I suppose it’s inevitable in an unattractive woman. Not that Maggie is simply unattractive. Long acquaintance with her reveals a most disturbing animal or diabolic power that one has increasingly to guard against.”

At this point, noticing perhaps that I was showing signs of protest, he hastened to add, “But, as I say, in her own way she really is magnificent. She’s devoted to me. If it had not been for her, I should never have discovered that my other self had anything good in him at all. She has been an invaluable liaison officer. She has helped me a lot to see things from his point of view. She has helped me to begin synthesizing the two of us. Take politics, for instance. He is a wild sort of Communist, and I used to be a rather conventional Tory. Well, with Maggie’s help I have progressed a lot, and now I think I have really found the balanced view. At heart I am a kind of Liberal Socialist, but I am practical enough to see that the right road to socialism is through enlightened conservatism. My other I self, with his Marxism, is far too impatient to accept this position.”

I pointed out that the other personality was not strictly a Marxist, though he had learnt very much from Marx. Victor ignored my interruption.

He continued, “Then all this religious stuff. Of course it is fundamentally sound and very important, but my brilliant brother (as I call him) is too clever by half about it, The things he writes are too subtle to get across to ordinary people. I sometimes wonder whether they are really so profound as he seems to think. I suspect they sometimes merely express brilliantly a fundamentally confused state of mind. But I am using his work a lot. Oh, yes, I shall be able to make something good out of it.”

The Dolt’s complacency took my breath away. Not until subsequent conversations did I discover that all this was a façade. He was building up a character that he wanted me to believe in. But he did not really believe in it himself. Under this patronizing assurance toward the true Victor I gradually began to sense a very different attitude. Not till quite late in my visit did the truth begin to appear.

I had, of course, watched with great interest the relations between Victor and Maggie. Generally he treated her with a rather crude kind of gallantry in which I detected an undercurrent of malice. On one occasion Maggie appeared in a new coat and skirt of plain design, Victor eyed it silently for a moment, then remarked, “Charming, charming, my dear; to those who can appreciate your peculiar style of beauty.” He paused, then continued, “But those who can’t, might feel that only an obviously attractive woman could carry off such a severe fashion,” Thus he gave a veiled expression to his own dislike of Maggie’s appearance, and yet at the same time claimed that he was sensitive enough to appreciate her.

On another occasion he expressed his hostility more openly. Sheila had been sick in the night, and Maggie appeared at breakfast in her dressing-gown. A rather large area of creamy bosom was visible. Victor said, “For God’s sake don’t expose yourself like that. Even if your body is more attractive than your face you are not entitled to display it.” Maggie clutched her dressing-gown tightly round her, turned crimson, and replied with spirit, “Don’t make yourself ridiculous!” I protested that there was nothing at all unseemly in her dress, and made it quite clear that Victor s remark had shocked me.

There was an awkward silence. Then in a different voice he said, “Maggie, please forgive me. I suppose I’m hypersensitive, or neurotic or something.”

That evening, after Maggie had gone upstairs, Victor asked me to stay and talk to him. He offered me a drink; but, knowing his weakness, I refused. He brought out the bottle of whisky and tried to persuade me, but I remained firm. For a moment he hesitated, then put the bottle back, and sat down opposite me by the fire. Filling his pipe, he said in a dull voice, “I have talked a lot of rot since you came.” I awkwardly protested, but he continued, “All that gassing about my being the synthesis of the two Victors is just rubbish. I wish it were true, but it isn’t.” He lit his pipe and gazed moodily into the fire. He said, “Of course I know quite well, really, that the other is the better man. But it’s distressing, and so I pretend to patronize him. I don’t really feel at all superior to my brilliant better half. I pretend to, but the pretence is becoming more and more transparent, even to me; specially under Maggie’s eagle eye. I know quite well that everything worth while in me comes from him, mostly through Maggie. Really, I want to be him, even though at times I loathe him. I know I can’t be him; but at least I want to do what I can to stand for the things he stands for. I want to learn from him all I can. I want to do his chosen work, not just because he chose it but because I myself have learnt to see how important it is today. But, hell, I’m not bright enough. Mind you, I’m bright enough by ordinary standards, quite as bright as you, you old stick-inthe-mud. But — well, there are things he wrote in his notes and his book that I can’t really grasp. And, what’s worse, even now that I accept his values, I can’t stick to them and stand up for them as he did; because — well, I suppose I’m not possessed by them as he is.”

Victor brooded in silence. His pipe had gone out. I had to say something, but all that came was, “I wish I could help somehow.”

Then I added, “But Maggie is helping you a lot, isn’t she?”

“Yes,” he said, “she’s wonderful.” Then in a burst of frankness he unburdened himself about her. “The trouble is, she can’t realize she’s not my style. I never married her. I’m not her husband. I really do see her merits. I profoundly respect her. I even love her, in a way; as long as she keeps her distance. But the sight of her and the touch of her simply don’t appeal to me. In fact they repel me. I’m repelled all the more because I do feel there’s a repulsive fascination about her. She’s — well, a female ape with a woman’s intelligence, and a superhuman generosity.

“‘His Monkey Wife’!” Victor laughed harshly.

I felt a surge of indignation, and I protested hotly that he was being grossly unfair to her on the score of looks. She was certainly not a beauty, but it was untrue and false to say that she was repulsively fascinating. “Indeed,” I said, “your other self has taught me to see something of her strange beauty, now and then.” He replied, “Oh, well, that is how I feel about her myself. And so, when I do find myself attracted by her I can’t help feeling it’s a disgusting perversion that must be resisted at all costs.” I scornfully rejected this idea, and urged him to let himself go the next time he felt her attraction, and perhaps that would cure him of his silly notions. “Christ!” he said. “If I did let myself go I should savage her. No! I must keep a hold on myself.”

One morning I came downstairs to find both Maggie and Victor at breakfast. This was unusual, for generally Victor appeared late, often staying in bed for the meal. What was more unusual was that both were laughing happily. The children also were in high spirits. Once glance at Victor told me that he was himself again. The alert eyes, the uncurbed lips, were unmistakable. “Yes,” said Victor, “I am myself again, at last. I’m afraid the Dolt has given you rather an uncomfortable visit, so far, Harry.” I asked him when the change had happened. He answered merely, “Last night, about two o’clock.” After breakfast, when the children had gone off to play, I was told more about it. Maggie said, “In the middle of the night I was awakened by a knock at my door. It was Victor, the real Victor. I recognized his voice at once. He said, ‘Let me in, Maggie darling.’” (I noted that she had locked her door, but I made no comment.) Victor took up the thread, “So she let me in, and we did our best to add to the family.” Maggie protested, her eyes sparkling, her colour rising.

The atmosphere of the whole house was changed. The children seemed delighted to find their father in a friendly mood, and each was determined to have as much as possible of him while he lasted. It was as though Victor were a soldier home on a short leave. The same poignant happiness, the same sense of brevity and precariousness, the same alternation of easy talk and awkward silence; and between the married pair the same tendency to keep hold of each other. I began to wonder whether they would rather that I left the place to them. But when I suggested this, they both vehemently protested.

It happened that Victor was due to take a class that same evening. He asked Maggie to arrange for someone to mind the children, so that she and I could both accompany him. “Let’s go by train instead of the car,” he said, “it’s friendlier.”

We arrived rather early in the schoolroom where the class was to be held. As the members arrived, Victor talked to individuals here and there about their work. When some twenty-five adults were uncomfortably seated at desks meant for children, Victor began his talk. He started by saying that he did not intend to cover any new ground on this occasion, because he wanted to clear up a number of points that he had not dealt with satisfactorily earlier in the session. “I have not been in very good form recently,” he said, “but I’m wide-awake now, and I had better make the best of it.” The class had already tumbled to it that he was brighter than usual, and there was an unmistakable air of expectancy in the room. I noticed that the various corrections and qualifications that Victor made to his own earlier statements were all such as to give a more balanced view, and a view less easily acceptable to the class. Evidently the Dolt had been accustomed to take the line of least resistance by allowing a good many extravagant Leftist pronouncements to go unanswered, and even by pandering to such opinions in his lectures. The awake Victor, though in some ways far more to the Left in politics than the Dolt, would not tolerate unfair or uncritical propaganda. On this occasion he had a passage of arms with an ardent Communist who was outraged that Victor should now be anxious to insist that there had been much real good-heartedness and self-sacrificing social work among employers. The young man rose and made a formal protest, deploring “this change of heart in our respected tutor,” and plainly hinting that Victor had to talk like that for fear of losing his job. Victor laughed, and then let himself go on the subject of over-simplifying history and human nature for the sake of a theory which was largely true but not the whole truth. He turned the incident to good account by a short statement on the terrific complexity of the universe, and the fact that none of the great questions could be properly answered, because they were all at bottom false questions. Always what we had to do was to ask new and subtler questions. When someone remarked, “Yes, but we must have some certainty to live by,” Victor said, “You can’t have it, and it’s no use pretending.” Then he corrected himself and said, “You can find in your own heart the only certainty that matters, namely that the way of community, of love and friendliness, is good, and that we must strive to live that way if we are to fulfil our nature. But certainty about the universe — No! Impossible! Let’s just be humble about it, and reverently agnostic.”

I think it was on the third evening after this that Victor told me about his ill-treatment of Maggie when he was in his less-awake phase. We were all three sitting round the fire, Maggie sewing, Victor mending crockery, I as usual idly smoking. (Mending crockery, by the way, was an operation which the Dolt had always refused to undertake. Consequently a collection of broken cups and plates had always accumulated for the true Victor to cope with on his rare visits. The little “daily help” who worked for Maggie at this time was more amiable than careful.) I had noticed, as the days advanced since Victor’s waking, an increasing sadness in his relations with Maggie. This was to be expected, since his lucid state was not likely to last much longer. I could also detect a growing anxiety on Maggie’s account. On one occasion I had overheard Maggie say to him, “It’s all right, Victor dear. I can deal with him.” And Victor replied, “God! I think you ought to learn jujitsu or carry a pistol.” She laughed.

On this evening of the crockery-mending the truth came out. Carefully fitting two bits of a saucer together, Victor said, “Maggie may not have told you how rottenly the Dolt sometimes treats her. She’s too kind.”

Maggie looked uncomfortable and said, “Oh, surely the details don’t matter. I did tell him there had been trouble.”

Victor insisted, “The details do matter. I am very anxious about it all. Do you know, Harry, the Dolt, once went at her with a knife. I, Victor, once went at Maggie with a knife. Fortunately she was able to lock herself into the lavatory, and stay there till I cooled down.”

“Yes,” said Maggie, laughing, “and of course while Victor, poor dear, was crazily stabbing at the door the laundry van came. We missed sending our clothes that week. Afterwards, of course my unfortunate husband was bitterly ashamed of himself, and I think he would have stuck the knife in his own gizzard if I had not taken it from him.”

I asked what the cause of the trouble was. Maggie said, “I thought Victor was out of the house, because I had not heard the car come back; and I was walking about in my petticoat because it was so hot. But Victor had left the car at the garage for repairs and walked home. So he caught me unawares. The sight of me like that sent him crazy. Heavens it was a picnic! And so funny, somehow I But it all happened ages ago. He has been a lamb for ever so long now.”

“Yes,” said Victor, “but things might quite well go wrong again any time. And there was that other affair.”

Maggie brightly said, “Oh, that was earlier still. And now, as you know, I lock my door at night.” Victor said,” I had not been able to sleep. At the class where I had been that I evening there was a rather seductive girl. When I was going over some written work with her after the class squashed against her in one of those ridiculous little desks, I got all sexy. After that, I had a sleepless night. My mind was going round and round about sex and Maggie. What I regarded as the bestial fascination of her began to get the better of my repugnance. At last I just went to her room.”

Maggie intervened. “I heard the door open, and for a moment I lay still with my heart thumping. Then I said ‘Is that you, Victor?’ There was no answer. He simply rushed straight at me. I very soon knew it was not my own darling Victor after all, but just the poor other Victor. He was rough and savage, and cruel too. I said I wouldn’t be made love to like that, and I fought. I bit his shoulder hard, but he took no notice. Then it suddenly came over me that after all he really was my own Victor at heart, and I gave up.”

Victor continued, “Presently it came over me that I was being a disgusting brute, and I ran away.”

“After that,” said Maggie, “I locked my door every night.”

Victor turned to me and said, “Now do you wonder why I am anxious?” But Maggie insisted that it was all ancient history, and the other Victor would never do that sort of thing now. “And some day,” she said, “he is going to love me, properly.” When I suggested that some day the true Victor would be permanently established, they both sadly rejected this possibility. Maggie said, “The best we can hope for is that his visits will not become rarer and shorter and finally cease altogether.” “But it’s a slender hope,” Victor said. “We have plotted the curve of the phases for the last eight years; and extrapolation suggests that I shall have vanished entirely by 1948 or 1950. And if it had not been for Maggie’s help. I should probably have vanished long ago.”

I had no clear idea as to how Maggie helped Victor to remain awake, so I asked her to tell me. Victor interposed. “Mainly just by being Maggie, and loving me.”

“Yes,” said Maggie, “mainly by loving him. But also by what one might call telepathic support, or (more accurately) by inducing the common spiritual soil, in which we are all rooted, to nourish the spirit in him.”

This sort of talk made me turn all sceptical and cynical, but I report it as faithfully as I can. Victor said, “She likes to put it that way; but the truth is inexpressible. One might just as well call it prayer, and leave the whole matter unexplained.”

The plight of these two was indeed strange and distressing. Victor had reconciled himself to the expectation that his times of lucidity would cease altogether, and that he would never be able to pursue effectively his chosen work. He was naturally very anxious that the Dolt should not give the world a garbled version of that work. He vaguely hoped that he and Maggie would be able to induce in the other a greater humility and a greater sincerity. But little progress had so far been made. In spite of this gloomy prospect, however, Victor seemed to be fundamentally reconciled to his fate. He said, “Evidently it is not in the pattern of history that I should be the one to clarify man’s consciousness about his relation to the heart of things; but someone, some day will do it. Or some other race somewhere in the universe will see what I am trying to see. Indeed, maybe they have done so, long ago. And ultimately, Harry, what supremely matters is not that this or that individual or species should find peace (or ‘salvation’) through the intruding vision of the spirit, but that the spirit should somewhere or somewhen be perceived with full clarity and worshipped with full intelligence.” This remark of Victor’s greatly perplexed me, but I record it for what it is worth.

With regard to Maggie his position was very distressing. They would meet less and less often; and each time he would inherit memories of the Dolt’s insensitive treatment of her. Occasionally, even the true serene Victor, when he was not quite at his best, would suffer bitterly on this score. In relation to Maggie’s misfortune he could never quite maintain, the sublime acceptance which was natural to him in relation to his own misfortune. She herself, however, put a brave face on it. Though she obviously longed to have the true Victor always, she maintained a gallant confidence that in time she would win the poor substitute Victor wholly to the true Victor’s values, and to real love for herself. “And then,” she said, “he will really be my true Victor, though without my darling’s brilliance.” And she claimed that she herself was beginning to love the lesser Victor for his own sake and not merely because she knew that at heart he was the true Victor. This remark intrigued me, and I asked her to explain. After a silence she said, “I suppose I am beginning to love him maternally, with tenderness toward his weakness, and charity toward his perversity, and pride in his struggle to rise above himself. You see, he really is trying. He is having a desperate moral struggle. The Victor that is with us now has no struggle, not against sheer selfishness, I mean. He has said so, time and again. So he has no need of me to mother him.” Victor interrupted, half in jest, half in earnest. “God!” he said, “I’m beginning to feel jealous of the Dolt. He is going to have so much of you, and I so little. Of course, in a way I have you all the time, because it’s me you love in him, and because when I wake I have all his experience. But it’s dismal to remember how he falls short of loving you properly. And Maggie, I do need you; not to mother me, merely, but to keep me from dying utterly into him.” Maggie suddenly rose from her chair, and put her arms round Victor’s neck.

To complete the picture of Victor as I found him in 1939, I will say something of his relations with his children. Maggie had told me that in the early days of the Dolt’s return, Victor had not tried to conceal his resentment against Colin. On several occasions he had treated the child rather brutally, once thrashing him severely for some paltry offence. But gradually he had made clumsy advances, and in the end a tolerable relationship had been established. Maggie had told Colin vaguely about his father’s illness. She had done her best to persuade the boy that, when his father was in his ordinary state, he was not really “himself” at all. He was living in a kind of long bad dream. She told Colin much about the gentleness and humour of Victor in the days before he “fell ill,” and insisted that even the ordinary Victor was like that at heart, and was gradually recovering his former genial nature. To me it seemed almost a miracle that she succeeded at all in winning her son over to this view. But, then, she was something of a witch. And in spite of his detached man-to-man behaviour, he loved and respected her very deeply. It was clear to me that the boy had come to model his behaviour toward Victor on his mother’s forbearance and patience toward her husband in his less attractive phases. This admirable conduct would probably have been quite impossible to Colin but for the fact that he had first-hand acquaintance with the true Victor as a very satisfactory sort of parent. With the less awake Victor, the happiest incident had been when Colin had been severely ill, and Victor was so far roused out of his habitual indifference that he had eagerly and devotedly taken his share of the nursing, and had done his best to entertain his son during the long convalescence. This affair had established better relations both between Victor and Colin and between Victor and Maggie.

One morning early in my visit, while the lesser personality was still on the scene, Victor found himself in the mood for playing with Colin. I had noticed that, hitherto, father and son had, on the whole, left each other alone, so Victor’s announcement that he proposed to play with Colin surprised me. He explained, “I want to keep in touch with the lad. And it will be refreshing after last night’s class. Come, Harry! You must join in.” It was a wet morning. Colin was absorbed in drawing, for which he showed a considerable talent. Victor said to him, “I have a bit of time to spare, so would you like to get the railway out?” Colin cheerfully said, “Righto,” but continued drawing. After a couple of minutes, during which Victor was showing me one of the locomotives, he turned to Colin, and said, “Well, what about it?” After one more careful stroke of the pencil, Colin went to the cupboard and fetched out a large box of railway lines. The three of us worked for a while, laying a complicated track from the playroom along the landing and into the far end of the guest-room. There were stations, a tunnel under my bed, sidings, and so on. The set was a magnificent electric system, built up birthday by birthday. When the track was laid, Colin was stationed in the playroom, I in the guest-room, and Victor took charge of the siding on the landing. There followed a very absorbing game with three trains and a great deal of work at the points. I noted that though Colin entered into the spirit of the game quite well, he was apt to snatch every opportunity for returning to his drawing. Once, when he failed to dispatch a train at the right moment, Victor was quite cross. It was also Victor, not Colin, who was cross when Sheila, wanting her dolly to have a ride on the train, tripped over a station and disintegrated the line. Altogether, I got the impression that it was Colin who was entertaining Victor, not the reverse. And very gracefully he had done it, apart from one malicious moment, when (I suspect) he deliberately staged a head-on collision.

The behaviour of father and son over the model railway had given me a clearer view of the character of the less awake Victor at this time. Whenever the true Victor appeared (so Maggie said) the general change of atmosphere affected Colin very noticeably. Even the small Sheila seemed to be aware of a propitious change. I myself had witnessed this change in the children on the morning when the true Victor reappeared. After the happy breakfast had come to an end, and the table had been cleared, Colin came along to his father with his cherished drawing-book, and said, “Daddy, I’ve done heaps of drawings since I last showed you. Look!” He dragged Victor to a chair and put the open book on his knees. Victor turned over the pages, and said, “Marvellous! You have done a lot! But look, there are so many! I think we had better wait till this afternoon. I want to talk to Uncle Harry now.” Colin protested, “No, Daddy, please look now! You may be different this afternoon. Please!” Victor’s heart was touched, and he said, “Right! We’ll get Uncle Harry to help.” Colin dragged a chair beside his father’s, and told me to stand behind and look over their shoulders. Victor studied each drawing carefully and then made a few comments, jocular or serious. Sometimes he reacted with critical approval, sometimes with ribaldry, but always he did his best to be helpful. There were drawings of animals (with something of the vigour of paleolithic paintings), of cars, ships, aeroplanes; and dramatic sketches of people having lurid adventures. Victor would say, “That’s no picture at all. Every line in it is quarrelling with every other. There’s no oneness to it,” Or else, “That’s not a bad effort, Colin, but this fellow has a side-face with a front-face eye in it. If you really intended that, to get both front and side-face into the picture, for the picture’s sake, well and good; but I can’t help feeling you just got muddled.” Of another of Colin’s creations he said, “Gosh! That poor blighter’s legs never grew big enough for his body. And what’s this man with the string bag emptied on his head?” Colin indignantly explained that it was a woman with fuzzy hair. When Victor came to a drawing of a steamer in a rough sea, he pointed out that the smoke was going one way and the flags another. Sometimes Victor would make little drawings in the margin, and Colin would watch intently.

A loose piece of paper slipped out of the book. Colin grabbed at it, with obvious embarrassment, but Victor was already holding it and scrutinizing it. Anxiously, Colin said, “I forgot that was there, Daddy,” and tried to retrieve it. But Victor, laughing with relish, held it out of reach. It was a drawing of a face. And crude as it was, it was obviously Victor himself, wearing his most Doltish expression. Victor handed up the drawing to me, and started a playful brawl with Colin.

Nothing else need be reported about my visit to the Smiths in 1939. The true Victor was still in occupation when I left, but it was clear that both he and Maggie expected each day to be their last. Latterly the poignancy of the situation had been difficult for me to bear. They both behaved with normal calm, but there was a vague tension in all that they did. I was glad when the time came for me to leave them to themselves.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 22:30