Thursday, November 5, 2009

God Bless Dudgeon

Not that I’m trying to start a war with Jessa Crispin, but I think she gets it wrong when she writes, of Neverland: J. M. Barrie, the DuMauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan, by Piers Dudgeon, a book she "tried to read," but that she found “just too damn over the top. Not that I don’t like the idea that Daphne DuMaurier channeled her books and had psychic abilities, but come on. You don’t actually put that in your book.

I'm in the middle of the book now and think, well yeah, you can put that in your book, when you’re describing what DuMaurier herself believed and practiced, along with a number of bohemian Victorian-era writers a couple of generations earlier, including her own grandfather.

Poor Piers Dudgeon, obsessive literary and biographical detective, for which he's gaslighted. He isn't embellishing, pulling out of thin air, whatever Janet Maslin , all but dismissing the book - unfairly I believe - may have you think. I like that Dudgeon reveals the process of his thinking as he ferrets out and examines clues. I find his analyses well-argued and compelling. Sometimes the best evidence he can find is circumstantial, and his quarry - by Barrie's own design - is ever-elusive. What biographer (who in general?) has ever met with a forthright predatory narcissist? (Excepting perhaps the fictional autobiographer Humbert Humbert, that notoriously unreliable narrator.)

"May God blast anyone who ever writes a biography of me," Barrie thundered. God I doubt cares, but critics in his defense will serve.

Dudgeon describes the psychic gift and imaginal method of what Daphne DuMaurier called “dreaming true,” which involved relaxing yet concentrating, and taking one's self on a "hypnotic excursion," transporting to the past or to a different place. Daphne's novels emanated from this method. Writing from this trance-like state is a couple of steps further out on the scale from a less rapturous creative process.

Perhaps that's what discomfits both Crispin and Maslin - Dudgeon's subject itself is convoluted and "out there" by our hyper-rationalistic 21st century American standards, but within the context of a different particular time, place, and social circle, makes sense. It's a time machine to read the book and to be transported to a world in which intellectual beliefs and cultural mores are so different.

I have been having such trouble with this blog post. It was turning into a book review, which was boring me silly. Let's say I like the book, though the tangled web, crosscurrents, tributaries, side rivulets, etc., etc. make it a little hard to follow.

I "dreamed true" an image of what it's like to read this book: trying to make one’s way through thick underbrush to get at the wild orchids all around.

When I was in my teens my mother freaked me out when she told me that as a young woman she had had the ability to transport herself out of her body and travel wherever she wanted, and that she did so frequently, at will. It was difficult for me to grasp that my staid mother could possibly be capable of such a thing. I don’t think she was putting me on. Her admission led me to wonder, many years later, if perhaps she hadn’t been sexually abused in her youth, and that her ability to detach was a coping mechanism, perhaps even at the actual moment of abuse. Reading the Dudgeon book though, I consider another possibility. Perhaps my mother, who had strong artistic aspirations, used her transportive ability as a way to tap into her unconscious, in order to enter a rapturous imaginal dream state. She had attended a boarding school in England after the war – who knows if in that school didn't lurk hangovers of odd Victorian ideas that a lonely, sensitive girl might have picked up.

I don’t have an ability to “dream true” like either my mother or Daphne DuMaurier. But with the encouragement of "transformational writing" instructors I have been shown ways to write from a more free-associative level than my more typical head-on, analytical way that I was trained in through my formal rational education.

I have no punch line.


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