Thursday, 20 November 2008

Voices in Emily V.

This is my second post about how I wrote The case of Emily V. When I started, the idea was to work with my spouse, Jenny Jenkins. She would write from the point of view of Emily, and I would write from the points of view of Freud and Watson.

As it happens, Jenny continued writing for a shortish time. She was very busy, and said I should take over the whole thing. So, there I was writing a novel in three voices. In fact Jenny stayed involved. She read drafts, and took part in plot conferences. As those of you will know who have read the first chapter, Emily announces at the beginning of the book that she has killed her guardian, Mr S. Thus we did not have the readily available plot-line of a mystery story that by a chain of clues progresses towards the discovery of a perpetrator (though later in the book Holmes does take up this kind of progression). The as-it-were reverse mystery plot, and the interrelation of events in narrative time as recounted by three different narrators made us think quite hard, and the plot conferences were tremendously important. Their result was that the whole novel reads (I think) fairly smoothly: as something complex (that is to say with interlocking parts), but not as something complicated (that is to say it's not a jumble).

I wanted to invent a case about which my Freud could think what the real Freud was thinking in 1904, for instance about whether patients were to be believed when they talked about having been molested in childhood. I was fairly well versed in Freud's writings, and had written about the cognitive psychology of Freud's case of Dora. I had been in psychoanalytic therapy, and trained as a psychotherapist in R.D. Laing's group in London. My challenge was to make my Freud sound like Freud, but to have him move along a bit more briskly than when he wrote himself. If you want to know how Freud thought as he developed his idea of psychoanalytic therapy in the early years of the 20th Century, you could do a lot worse than read this book. One of the things I like about it is that, although the case of Emily is invented, all the thoughts about psychological processes that Freud has in it are as accurate as I could make them, as are the references that I give, just as they would be in an academic article.

Finding the voice of Dr Watson was easier, because the whole set of Sherlock Holmes novels and stories fit between covers that are less than two inches apart. I enjoy immersing myself in the works of a thinker, and internalizing them to the point that I can generate extended versions. An engaging addition, here, was to drop a few soft suggestions about the emotional relationship between Holmes and Watson, to have the two of them pitted against adversaries who were intellectually their equals, and to make mild fun of Holmes's statements about the certainty of his inferences.

The voice of Emily was a different kind of challenge. But here again, I was wonderfully helped by the literature of the time, turn-of-the century feminism and the fiction of Kate Chopin and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. They were, of course, Americans, and so although Emily was English, she clearly had to go to university in America. I was glad to find a suitable place for her at a women' s college near Philadelphia that had been founded by the Quakers. My efforts at finding a voice for Emily more or less came off, I think; I don't remember a reviewer saying that she is unconvincing.

It was only after I had written the book that I discovered Bakhtin, and his idea of multiple centres of consciousness in the novel. Then, as I was reading him, I could think to myself: "exactly so." You can read chapters 3 and 4 of The case of Emily V. (which I have joined to the first two chapters) by clicking here.

Mikhail Bakhtin (1963). Problems of Dostoevsky's poetics. Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press (translated by C. Emerson, current edition 1984).

Kate Chopin (1899). The awakening. (A current edition is published in Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

Arthur Conan Doyle (1887-1914). The Penguin complete adventures of Sherlock Holmes. London: Penguin (current edition 1981).

Sigmund Freud (1905). Fragment of an analysis of a case of hysteria (Dora) (A. Tyson, Trans.). In J. Strachey & A. Richards (Eds.), The Pelican Freud Library, Vol 8: Case histories, II (Vol. 8, 29-164). London: Penguin (current edition 1979).

Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892). The yellow wallpaper (and other stories). New York: Bantam (current edition 1989).

Keith Oatley (1990). Freud's psychology of intention: The case of Dora. Mind and Language, 5, 69-86.

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