Robertson Davies’ novel approach to Jung

Questions opened with a Weasel Scot who said: “D’ye really know anything about this Yoong, or did ye juist mug up eneuch o’ his stuff to write that noavel?” I replied winsomely that I had been reading Jung for 30 years , and that The Manticore had been kindly received in Zurich, where they were in a position to judge

“Do you dream much?” asks Dr. Johanna von Haller, a Jungian analyst, in their first session in Zurich. David Staunton, a wealthy Toronto barrister - and functioning alcoholic - has not been much of a dreamer, but he has one from the previous night. In this dream, he left secure and cozy surroundings to travel down back roads where he met a wild Gypsy woman in colorful rags whose whose speech is strange to him. He hurries away and is soon back on familiar ground, speaking from his brief as a barrister in court. Dr von Haller suggests this was an “anticipatory dream” – that the Gypsy was a preview of her, another foreigner whose language is strange to him and from whom he is inclined to flee. “Dreams do not foretell the future,” she observes. “They reveal states of mind in which the future is implicit.” [2] 

 With this exchange, we are in the midst of the liveliest account of the process of a Jungian analysis that I know. It's in The Manticore, the central novel in the Deptford Trilogy by the wordmaster Robertson Davies, one of my favorite novelists. Davies never underwent analysis - which he described in a letter as "barnacle-scraping" [3] - or any formal training in psychology. On the other hand, he had read Jung for thirty years, kept a portrait of Jung on the wall of his study and was a founder of the Analytical Psychology Society of Ontario. He was a depth psychologist in the classical sense of the word, a student of soul. Like his protagonist, he became increasingly attuned to his dreams and his inner life. 

It was a vision from reverie that gave him the image of the manticore and thereby gave the book its title - after he transplanted it into the mind and circumstances of a fictional character. Davies had completed part one of The Manticore when, dozing on his screened porch after lunch, he saw before him a gallery with an ancient picture, showing a beautiful woman in a classical robe, leading a strange beast on a golden chain. "It had the body and head of a lion, the clawed feet of a dragon, a tail which was barbed as the tails of scorpions are barbed in ancient art, and it had the anguished face of a man." Davies consulted an encyclopedia of mythology and identified the beast in his vision as a manticore. [4] 

In the version of the dream that Davies' character tells his analyst, the manticore has his own face and the woman commanding it is Dr Johanna von Haller. When she tells him the name of the beast, he asks, "How can I dream about something I've never heard of?" She responds: "People very often dream of things they don't know...It is because great myths are not invented stories but objectivizations of images and situations that lie very deep in the human spirit." [5] 

 Here we are deep into the Jungian understanding of the archetypes of the collective unconscious, but we have come here effortlessly and fluently, thanks to Robertson Davies' word magic and marvelous ear for dialogue. It must be granted that it is highly unlikely that many therapy sessions - and any patient autobiographies - will manifest the eloquence, wit and lightly-worn erudition of these pages. 

Here is how Dr. von Haller introduces the concept of archetypes: “You might call them the Comedy Company of the Psyche, but that would be flippant and not to do justice to the cruel blows you have had from some of them. In my profession we call them archetypes, which means that they represent and body forth patterns towards which human behavior seems to be disposed, patterns which repeat themselves endlessly, but never precisely in the same way.” [6] Later the analyst declares, "Our great task is to see people as people and not clouded by archetypes we carry about with us, looking for a peg to hang them on...You will recover all these projections which you have visited on other people like a magic lantern projecting a slide on a screen" [7] 

Davies wrote of this novel: "There have been other books which describe Freudian analyses, but I know of no other that describes a Jungian analysis." He added, "I was deeply afraid that I would put my foot in it, for I have never undergone one of those barnacle-scraping experiences, and knew of it only through reading. So I was greatly pleased when some of my Jungian friends in Zurich liked it very much." [8] 

The Zurich crowd were not unanimous, however. When Marie-Louise von Franz, one of the most brilliant of the women around Jung, arrived in Toronto, she was quite frosty to Robertson Davies because she was extremely annoyed by the suggestion that she was the model for Johanna von Haller. Davies had never previously met her, though he had read much of her work and admired her greatly as a classical scholar and interpreter of myth and fairytales, as well an excellent explicator of the Jungian psychology of projection and re-collection. [9] 

After meeting Swiss frost with Canadian froideur on their first evening, Davies charmed von Franz as he played genial host - as Master of Massey College at the University of Toronto - over the days that followed, and von Franz charmed Davies in turn, with her spin on a dream he recounted to her. In the dream, Davies (whose first career was on the London stage) found himself as an actor in a play. His cue has been given, the audience is waiting, but he does not know his lines and doesn't even know what play he is in. Davies told von Franz that he thought the dream expressed his deep sense of inadequacy. She told him robustly: "I would have said it is an indication to you that you don't go on stage to say what other people have written, but to say what you have to say yourself." [10]


[1]Robertson Davies to Arnold and Letitia Edinborough February 19, 1980 in For Your Eye Alone: The Letters of Robertson Davies edited by Judith Skelton Grant (New York: Viking, 2001)49. [
2] Robertson Davies, The Deptford Trilogy (New York: Penguin, 1990)276. The Manticore was first published in 1972. [3]Robertson Davies to Leon Edel, Thanksgiving (Canadian Style) 1981 in For Your Eye Alone 72.
[4] Judith Skelton Grant, Robertson Davies: Man of Myth (New York: Viking, 1994) 498.
 [5] Deptford Trilogy 404-405. 
[6] Deptford Trilogy 449. 
[7] Deptford Trilogy 450-451. [8] Davies to Leon Edel; For Your Eye Alone 72. 
[9] Von Franz's master work on this theme, Spiegelungen der Seele, had not yet been published, however. The German edition appeared in 1978; Projection and Re-collection in Jungian Psyxhology, translated by William H. Kennedy, followed in 1980 (LaSalle and London: Open Court, 1980). 
[10] Grant, Robertson Davies: Man of Myth 498.