OfMirth and Melancholy MILTON EIRNBAUM. The Cunning Man, by Robertson Davies, New York: Viking, pp. $23.95.

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1 when Richard Nixon came to office. Similarly, Robert Taft conservatives sought to disengage the country from overseas commitments (opposition to NATO, foreign aid programs), but during the Reagan Administration many conservatives complained about 535 Secretaries of State micro-managing foreign policy, when in fact, this sphere was the domain of the commander-in-chief. With the Cold War over and with a public less interested in foreign affairs, the presidency, it seems, might make its way back to its original role as custodian of the constitution. But one chapter, lmages and Elections, Myths and Symbols, underscores McDonald s earlier pessimism. It is fine for a president, as George Washington understood, to project a noble image, to be a living embodiment of the nation. But in an age of mass media, all this has been taken to extremes. A president is still expected to be demigod who can singlehandedly save the nation. Sound bites, consultants, pollsters, obligations to fund-raisers-it has become impossible for any man to speak with much candor and sincerity about the nation s problems and win a national election. To be sure, in the primary season some candidates do come forward with straight talk about economic and social decline. But in every instance, such candidates are savaged by the media as either bigots or flakes. Not only that, they run into fierce opposition from their party s hierarchy, who prefer experienced politicos that pose no threat to the status quo. And so, we are left with issues determined by endless polls and study groups among ordinary citizens. It takes a clever man to make it to the top and an equally clever administration to keep a president in power for more than four years. Yet all of this has little to do with a declining standard of living and a cultural revolution that is separating the country from its Western heritage. Mod- ern presidents are happy just to survive their terms. The American Presidency is an epic undertaking, meticulously researched and footnoted, written in the conversational style that readers have come to enjoy in McDonald s works. The author leaves no doubt that much criticism can be leveled at a people who expect a president to be a miracle-worker. But recent administrations aren t blameless. Is it asking too much for a president to have the nerve to shut down federal agencies, or to drop the quest for a New World Order, or seal off the country s borders from illegal immigrants? This book is a strong reminder that no one man is going to reverse the nation s decline. OfMirth and Melancholy MILTON EIRNBAUM The Cunning Man, by Robertson Davies, New York: Viking, pp. $ Therapy, by David Lodge, New York: Viking, pp. $ There are some amazing similarities between the two authors and the two novels being reviewed here. Although Robertson Davies is a Canadian and twenty-two years older than David Lodge, and although Davies comes from a more affluent and academically prestigious background, they do have much in common. Both have been universityprofessors of English; both have previously published novels, in addition to books of criticism and essays. Davies, formerly an actor, has also produced over half a dozen plays; and Lodge has written one, appropriately called The Writing Game. Modem Age 403

2 More significantly, these two novels resemble each other in many ways. Each employs the first person narrator s perspective; each includes characters who have appeared in some of their previous works; and each of the two narrators falls in love with a girl who, because of various circumstances, marries someone else, but who nevertheless manages to carry on an extramarital affair with the narrator. Each narrator often reflects on the past and shows it to be more attractive than the current scene. For example, the narrator in Davies s book look[s] back on those days in Sioux Lookout as if to a lost paradise, and Lodge yearns for the year 1966, when England won the World Cup Final in soccer. In a sense, the two books are mysteries-each one beginning with a question. Davies s novel poses a question in the first lineof theveryfirst page: Should I have taken the false teeth? This question becomes more meaningful when the reader learns that the narrator is a physician who thinks that perhaps the officiating priest s sudden death in a church while administering Holy Communion on a Good Friday, may not have been caused by a heart attack-and that perhaps a closer examination of the false teeth would resolve the problem. Similarly, Lodge s book begins with the revelation by the narrator that he is suffering from a mysterious pain in the knee on top of all my other problems. The reader, like the narrator, wonders what causes this pain, and whether it will be cured. Both mysteries are resolved in the novels-and the reader can then go back to the burdens of quotidian existence considerably refreshed. Most importantly, both novels are laced with Rabelaisian wit, Chaucerian gusto, and the kind of allusions to literature, mythology, philosophy, and psychology that delight an academic s heart and give considerable sustenance to his ego because he can identify so many of them. Lodge not only makes reference to Dante, Shakespeare, Kierkegaard, et a/., but also has narrator eager to look up words, niceties of grammar, and names in dictionaries. For instance, Lodge s hero wonders whether gingerly can be used both as an adjective and as an adverb and makes many references to figures frequently found in a course in Western world literature and culturebut it is Richard Burton s Anatomy of Melancholy which dominates the narrator s thoughts. Davies s The Cunning Man has as its epigraph a quotation from Richard Burton s The Anatomy of Melancholy (162 1): Cunning men, wizards, and white witches, as they call them, in every village, which, if they be sought unto, will help almost all infirmities of body and mind... The body s mischiefs, as Plato proves, proceed from the soul: and if the mind be not first satisfied, the body can never be cured. Using a somewhat confusing time scheme, the narrator (Dr. Jonathan Hullah) reminisces about the main events in his life from his youth until the time the novel ends when he is 65 years old. In the latter half of the book, Davies breaks up the first-person narrative perspective by the occasional insertion of letters written by a charming lady (with the Dickensian name of Pansy Freake Todhunter). She is the landlady of the house where the narrator lives and where he has set up his medical practice. She has been living in a Lesbian relationship with an artist named Emily Raven-Hartand both ladies sponsor weekly musical sessions at their home, to which are invited some very talented musicians, artists, and intellectuals. The narrator s reflections cover too many events to be analyzed (or even summarized) here. It should be said, 404 Fall 1996

3 however, that whether he is talking about his upbringing in Sioux Lookout (in Northern Ontario); his high school and college education; his becoming a physician; his serving in the Canadian Armed Forces in World War 11; his social and love life; or the interviews he has been giving the last four years to Miss Esme Barron, a reporter for The Colonial Advocate who is writing a series on The Toronto That Used To Be, the narrator has seemingly been guided by his experiences and also by some books he has been reading while developing his basic credo (James devoragine sthe Golden Legends, Dante, the classics of the Western world, to, but especially, Richard Burton s The Anatomy of Melancholy.) Perhaps his credo can best be summarized by Hermes caduceus; I liked the caduceus so much that I thought I would complete it with the name of the Greek concept that, with the caduceus, seemed to me to sum up my medical philosophy: the serpents of Wisdom and Knowledge, under the rule of Hermes, the medical god, and all under the domination of Fate, or Necessity. What may be his guiding principle in medical practice, however, does not always carry over into his personal decisions. Despite the knowledge he gains from his omnivorous reading and reflections, he does not develop the wisdom to apply this knowledge to his personal life. For example, even though the girl he loved before he joined the Canadian Armed Forces has married one of his best friends, he has nevertheless been carrying on an adulterous relationship with her (with her eager consent, to be sure) for some time and thinks, albeit mistakenly, that he is the biological father of her son. When the truth is finally revealed by the friend, the narrator is more shocked by the revelation that his friend has been sending out a snoop to confirm his suspicions than by any real- ization that he has been committing both adultery and betrayal: He tells his best friend: My God! Brocky,-you put a tail on your own wife and your best friend? How could you do such a thing? Upon reflection, he comments that Artistically, everything was wrong with the resolution of my affair with Nuala, and later, he seems to get some comfort from the observation, Turn the Wizard toward the light, and you see that he is also the Fool. The lives of the great philosophers, so far as we know them, afford ample supporting evidence. Another example emerges at the end of the novel when at the age of 65, he thinks he has fallen in love with Esme (the newspaper interviewer, who is 28 years old). Despite not only Chaucer s The Miller s Tale, but also the examples of Henrik Ibsen and Charles Dickens, the narrator proposes marriage to Esme. Fortunately, she is now engaged to a much younger (and more attractive) man, and so he escapes another experience which could have been disastrous. The novel ends with the sapient observation that renunciation, that Victorian enthusiasm which psychoanalysis has for the present made mockable... will come back. It is too good and true a feeling to be driven from the human heart by the Viennese Deconstructionists. He himself plans to continue his Deconstruction project, Anatomy of Fiction, in which he will deconstruct famous literary characters from a medical perspective. Since Deconstruction offers a refreshing lackof certainty about virtually everything, the narrator hopes that his appraisal will change literature forever, and make necessary new developments and commentaries on the literature of the past. It will keep the whole critical trade hard at work for at least a couple of centuries. And so life (which Dr. Hullah calls a Divine Drama... but we re probably only Modern Age 405

4 . in Act Two of a five-act tragicomedy ) will go on, with all its paradoxes and necessities. David Lodge s Therapy has three epigraphs: THERAPY. The treatment of physical, mental or social disorders or disease. -Collins English Dictionary You know what, Scaren? There s nothing the matter with you but your silly habit of holding yourself round-shouldered. Just straighten your back and stand up and your sickness will be over. -Christian Kierkegaard Lund, uncle of S~ren Writing is a form of therapy. -Graham Greene Curiously enough, Kierkegaard, who, at least in theory, is the narrator s alter ego, is not represented here at all. The inclusion of several possible cures for what ails the narrator and the omission of the individual to whom the narrator seems most intimately bonded anticipate a recurrent motif, one that could be called the I.D.K. (I Don t Know) Syndrome. This syndrome first appears early in the book. When an operation on the narrator s aching knee does not relieve the pain, he is told by his physiotherapist, You ve got Internal Derangement of the knee. That s what the orthopaedic surgeons call it among themselves. Internal Derangement of the Knee. I.D.K. I Don t Know. The Derangement of the Knee is merely symptomatic of the internal derangement of the narrator s whole personality and, by extension, the derangement of society. As to what causes this individual and collective derangement, the answer is I Don t Know and, therefore, the cure for this derangement remains elusive until the last section of the novel. Laurence Tubby Passmore, the narrator, is 58 years old, and is a highly successful TV scriptwriter, presumably happily married to a university professor whose specialty is psycholinguistics and language acquisition (don t ask me to explain it). He has two children successfully launched in adult life, a comfortable suburban home (in addition to a London flat, where he often meets his business associate, Amy, with whom he has a platonic relationship), an ostentatious-looking Japanese car (which he calls Richmobile ) and all the other perks which come with being the successful scriptwriter of a weekly TVsitcom that is watched by 13 million people. Yet, despite all these conditions, he feel[s] unhappy most of the time. This unhappiness is compounded by his being told that his TV sitcom is facing the loss of its very popular leading actress and consequently he must struggle with changing the format of the series. He seems to be losing his sexual potency, suffers from pathological indecisiveness, and finds himself unable to listen to what other people (especially his wife) are telling him. He seeks all kinds of therapy -Physiotherapy, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Aromatherapy, acupuncture, and I m game for almost any kind of therapy except Chemotherapy. His seeing his platonic friend Amy twice a week is also a sort of therapy, I suppose. (Incidentally, Amy, too, has been seeing her psychoanalyst, who never gives a direct answer to a direct question, every weekday from 9:00 to 9:50 a.m. for the last three years.) What intensifies his personal unhappiness is his awareness of the general deterioration which has overtaken England and the rest of the world: We came back to the flat from Gabrielli s to watch News at Ten on my little Sony, tokeep abreast of theglobalgloom (atroci- 406 Fall 1996

5 ties in Bosnia, floods in Bangladesh, drought in Zimbabwe, imminent collapse of Russian economy, British trade deficit worst ever recorded). The country seems to be going through some huge crisis of confidence, Internal Derangement of the National Psyche. The Gallup poll published last week showed eighty per cent of the electorate were dissatisfied with the Government s performance. According to anotherpoll, more than forty per cent of young people think that Britain will become a worse country to live in over the next decade. Which means, presumably, they think that either Labour won t win the next election, or it won t make any difference if they do. We ve become a nation of unhappy hopers. And most of all, the I.D.K. syndrome affects his analysis of his own and the collective unhappiness of the world. He often gets depressed not only because some of the TV critics don t think highly of his sitcom series, but because I don t esteem myself. I want everybodyto think I m perfect, while not believing it myself. Why? I don t know. I.D.K. Similarly, when he sees one of his married directors acting intimately with another woman, he reflects: There seems to be an adultery epidemic going on: Jake, Jean Wellington, the Royal Family, and now Nizar. What I want to know is, why should I feel embarrassed, even guilty, at having surprised Nizar with his bimbo? Why did Irun away? Why did I hide? I don t know. When his own marriage is collapsing, his depression becomes even worse: Once you begin to doubt your marriage, you begin to doubt your grasp of reality. I thought I knew Sally-suddenly I found I didn t. So perhaps I didn t know myself. Perhaps I didn t know anything. His platonic friend, Amy, asks him at one point how his Angst is coming along. The narrator, always curious about words, looks up Angst and this search leads him to look up Existentialism, and thus begins his fascination with Sprren Kierkegaard, the reputed father of Existentialism. From here on, there are constant references to this Danish philosopher whose pervasive depression seems to parallel his own. Kierkegaard, too, apparently suffered from indecisiveness, a constant dread of what may happen and an unfortunate relationship with the girl he was going to marry but decided not to. The crisis comes when the narrator s wife leaves him because she can t stand his moods anymore and he doesn t make her laugh anymore. What follows is a series of imagined narratives by the people who have been most intimately involved with the narrator s life. And in a deus (actually dea would be more ap propriate here) ex machina ending to his tribulations, the narrator returns to his first love (whom he has not seen for almost four decades), discovers she s unhappily married to a man who seems alienated by her having undergone a mastectomy. He catches up with her when she s on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. They physically consummate their love while on the pilgrimage-and presumably will carry on this relationship with the implied nonobjection of the husband. Such an abbreviated summary of the plot, however, seems to do an injustice to the infectious humor in the book. There are brilliant satiric sketches of the empty world of those who produce TV sitcom programs and of the sensuously glittering people in Hollywood. Some of the narratives imagined by the narrator are hilarious, especially the one by Amy, his platonic friend, who relates what happened when they go to the Canary Islands to try to become physically intimate. And if the reader searching for profound moral truths seems desolate by Modern Age 407

6 the amoral ending, Lodge would probably repeat Hemingway s dictum that if one wants a message he should go to Western Union. Lodge would most likely agree with the observation made by Davies s narrator, who, towards the end of the novel, paraphrases the Book of Proverbs (1513): A merry heart doeth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones. Davies, however, in a more reflective mood, would also recall another Proverb (14:13): Even in laughter the heart acheth; And the end of mirth is heaviness. In an earlier publication, Davies himself gave the wisest critical judgment concerning the transient value of the mirthful approach to literature: To put it with the uttermost bluntness, the writers who are enclosed in a kingdom of this world do not have the big literary artillery, and when we have wearied of them, we are likely to turn again to the authors who, overtly or by implication, write as if man lived in the presence of a transcendent authority, and of an Adversary who sought to come between him and the light. 1. This review was written just before the death of Robertson Davies on December 2,1995, at age82.2. Robertson Davies, One Half of Robeltson Davies (New York, 1977) Autobiographical Reflections Eric Voegelin Edited, with an Introduction, by Ellis Sandoz We are indeed fortunate that one of the twentieth century s authentic titans in philosophy and history thought to set down his autobiographical reflections before his passing. It is hard to imagine a more lustrous and also engrossing memoir. -Robert Nisbet $10.95 paper f Credit-card LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY PRESS P.O. Box Baton Rouge, LA orders: Fall 1996