Brakes

Last night I dreamt I was driving along the Cornish coast again. The road was narrow and full of curves. I was afraid of swerving off the road. Then I remembered Hugh’s words, “Brake before the bend, not on it”. It was a relief to wake up all intact. But the dream had aroused briny scented memories and I spent the rest of the morning thinking about her.

It was September of 1939. The Germans had just invaded Poland and we were in Fowey, a small town in southern Cornwall. Fowey sits on the mouth of a breath-taking estuary and we thought it would be a good place for Hugh to write and for me to do some landscape painting.

We didn’t have much of a social life and our main pastimes were those of taking long walks or having afternoon tea at Hotel Fowey. One day I had a craving for scones and went for tea alone. Sitting next to me was a woman I’d recognized from the newspapers–Daphne du Maurier, the author of Rebecca. Intrigued, I improvised a ruse to start conversation. “Excuse me for interrupting”, I said, “do you have a pen I could borrow? I need to write something down quickly before I forget it.” It wasn’t the most ingenious approach and Daphne looked at me quizzically. Nevertheless, she opened her purse and took out a pen. It was the beginning of a mild manned rapport and we often took walks to Sandy Cove together. But I couldn’t really call it a friendship as Daphne was very self-contained and revealed little of herself.

Hugh and I eventually left Cornwall and my contact with Daphne slowly dissipated. Then in the late 50s, I was having martinis at Duke’s Hotel in London when I ran into one of Daphne’s friends. For reasons of discretion, I will simply refer to her as Mrs. R. From her I learned that Daphne had had a nervous breakdown and, said Mrs. R., it was all the fault of her grandfather and that Peter Pan man. Totally intrigued, I begged to know more and, thanks to the martinis, Mrs. R. was more than happy to elaborate.

While studying art in Paris, Daphne’s grandfather, George du Maurier, became fixated with hypnosis and enjoyed experimenting its effect on young women. His experimentation led to a novel, Trilby (1894), the story Trilby, a young artists’ model. Svengali, a musician and a hypnotist, is infatuated with her. Although Trilby is tone deaf, via hypnotism, Svengali transforms her into an international singing diva. But when Svengali has a heart attack and can’t hypnotize her, Trilby goes on stage and is unable to keep a tune. The audience boos and humiliates her so she cries out that she had never wanted to sing but did so only because of Svengali. Realizing that she doesn’t know who she really is, Trilby breaks down and dies a few weeks later.

Du Maurier’s novel, a major bestseller, inspired Jim Barrie to manipulate minds, too. He choose George Du Maurier’s grandsons (and Daphne’s cousins) as his prey and was so successful that it wasn’t long before the boys referred to him as “Uncle Jim” and the parents often left their children in his care. Uncle Jim taught them how to achieve Dreaming True, a trance like state where fantasy obliterates reality. And the king of this imaginary world was Peter Pan, Barrie’s novel that led to money-making plays.

Basic mind control techniques include: taking advantage of a person’s vulnerability and their need for approval, making someone feel special while simultaneously isolating them from others, creating synchronized activities together as a form of bonding. And, above all, demolishing one’s sense of personal identity.

A year after Barrie’s death, Daphne published Rebecca, a novel about a man with two wives. And Daphne represents both those wives.

As a child, Daphne’s father (also under Barrie’s control) let it be known that he’d wanted a son, not a daughter. So the young Daphne cut her hair, dressed as a boy, and called herself Eric Avon. In Rebecca, Mrs Danvers tells us that Rebecca “looked like a boy in her sailing kit, a boy with a face like a Botticelli angel.” Mrs. Danvers is describing Daphne.

By killing Rebecca in the novel, Daphne symbolically tries killing off the boy in her so she can liberate herself from Uncle Jim and her father.

Lesson learned from Daphne:

Having a sense of self is fundamental. It’s like a compass that helps keep you going in the right direction. Because if you lose touch with your core, you’ll easily get lost.

It’s important to “know thyself” and to keep that self whole. Personal identity is based on so many variables so we are constantly changing and need to periodically update the image we have of ourselves even as we grow older.

The stronger our sense of self, the less likelihood of being manipulated by others. So keep close to your core and stay united with yourself. Just think about Robert Louis Stevenson (Jim Barrie’s pen pal for many years). Dr Jekyll is a nice guy until he meddles with his mind and tries splitting up his identity so that Mr. Hyde can come out.

And if you ever feel you are going out of bounds, remember to “Brake before the bend, not on it”.

(from Cool Breeze, aka The Age of Reconfiguration ©)

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About Art for Housewives

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