Oct 272015

Psychiatrists have a mixed reputation. Some, are damaged, wounded beings, teaching what they need to learn. Others are dangerous, causing irreparable harm, like Harry Bailey. Years ago, I read in Time that the president of the American Psychiatric Association had drugged and raped some of his patients.

One day, I read in the newspaper that my supervisor, during the time I was a practicing psychotherapist, a highly regarded and respected doyen of the psychiatric profession, had been deregistered. Charges of professional misconduct had been brought against him. A patient of this revered man had been the victim of childhood sexual abuse. This did not deter the psychiatrist from seducing the woman and having intercourse during his patient’s sessions. On someone’s advice, the woman had taken a recorder with her and taped one of the sessions. The therapist was heard to ask the patient after they had sex whether he could sit on her lap in all his nakedness.

It’s a very difficult profession, I discovered I was not suited to it. The therapist is constantly tested, harassed, having to respond to the endless clamour of those in need. When two people are alone together, great intimacy develops; an emotional bond occurs between them. Freud maintained this was a necessary part of the process—for the patient to develop a transference on the psychiatrist. Sometimes, something very dangerous and destructive happens—the countertransference. Not much is written about this process, it is uncharted territory, and yet it occurs, with disastrous consequences for the patient, and also for the therapist. There is the longing too. The world is full of unfulfilled longings. Everyone is steeped in longing.

The man in my novel is a deeply wounded person who is afraid to love. He’s always been with women he’s never loved. But he’s a human being—he first sees the woman he will fall in love with at a fund raiser ball, in the arms of another man. And it’s that 19th Century moment—the Romanticism of the poets, Shelley, Byron, Keats—what Goethe described as the profound affinity some people have for each other, ‘the mystery of attraction and the atoms which link people to each other.’  It is the same with her. She is totally enthralled, for the first time in her life. But with those feelings comes fear. We know how love ends—we have history telling us about the great loves—Romeo and Juliet, Heloise and Abelard, Tristan and Isolde. We know the pain we feel when a beloved animal companion dies. We swear we will never get another one—we never want to love and suffer again. ‘The greatest fear of all has nothing to do with hatred and aggressive acts. The greatest fear is of loving and being loved.’       

Andreas, the psychiatrist, tells Annabelle. ‘The moment a man loves a beautiful woman, he becomes the most wretched, Tolstoy said. I loved you so much, I thought you would destroy me.’

Oct 202015

Goethe explained, when asked if what he wrote were true or not: “There is in this novel, as every reader will recognize, a deeply passionate wound which even in healing is reluctant to close, a heart afraid of being made whole again.” Towards the end of his life, he acknowledged this: “I lived every word of my Elective Affinities,” he said. Still, Goethe wrote a novel, not an autobiography. “He said there was nothing in his Elective Affinities which had not been really lived, but nothing was there in the form in which it had been lived.” Had he not had the real experiences he would not have been equipped to produce that truth; but the truth he produces is other and more than those experiences.

How much of The Secret Seduction is about me? I leave that to the reader to decide. If they’re moved, enthralled, angered, amused, fascinated and keep turning the pages, then they’ll know it’s real. Life and writing are inextricable. We spin our writing out of the lives we live. “Everything in the world exists to be put in a book,” wrote Mallarmé.



Published in the Sun-Herald and The Age Sunday Life Magazine.

January 31, 2016
Victoria Thompson

“The gods were angry, the way they can be with lovers.”
“The gods were angry, the way they can be with lovers.” Photo: Getty Images (posed by models)

It was at a candlelit dinner to celebrate a friend’s birthday in the late 1970s when something extraordinary happened. Most of the people there were lawyers, doctors, artists – and of another generation. My husband and I were in our 30s and sought the company of older people because we loved their rich intellects, experiences, stories, and the fact that they weren’t as self-absorbed as our generation.

Suddenly I became aware of one of the guests across the room looking at me. At first I was shocked and irritated, then intrigued. Soon I was experiencing all sorts of strange feelings – rapid heartbeat, fear and joy, wonderment, and finally recognition. I had known this person before, then and forever. When we began talking, these feelings intensified. I had never experienced anything like it.

It would be many years later, while reading one of Goethe’s novels, Elective Affinities, that it became clear. Goethe described how atoms search to connect with other atoms they have an affinity with – I call it “the enigma of attraction” in my book.

The man gazing at me was tall and appealing, with a distinguished countenance. We talked all evening – we had so much in common, although from different parts of the world. He gave me his card. He was a psychiatrist.

It took me three months to raise the courage to make an appointment. I had been inquisitive about psychoanalysis – I hoped to become a writer, and a writer had to know herself before she could write about others. I also had suffered from migraine headaches and depression since childhood.

Another reason was that he was one of the few psychiatrists with permission to use LSD in a clinical situation. Many of our friends were dropping acid in those days, but I was too frightened to use it in a social setting. It was a dangerous drug which could unleash reckless behaviour by removing one’s self-protective mechanism, leading some people to walk in front of cars or jump out of buildings imagining they could fly.

I was elated to be in his consulting room overlooking the harbour. It felt cosy and sheltered. I would spend hours dressing up for him – mostly gorgeous creations from vintage shops, Victorian lace camisoles, slinky satin 1930s gowns, black silk velvet dresses with ruched short sleeves. Very seductive.

After a difficult time, during which he struggled with his feelings and the ethics and taboos of his profession, we became lovers. I had never experienced such eroticism before. Sometimes he just needed to gaze at me while sitting across from me, and I would dissolve – it was like honey coursing through my body, down my legs. During analysis sessions, which became love-making sessions, he gave me vodka. I needed it to unlock my inhibitions; I’d had a convent education.

I loved the vodka. It was St Petersburg covered in snow. Anna Karenina’s fatal train emerging out of the fog. The movie Doctor Zhivago. Russian princes on white steeds, riding the crystal waves of my imagination.

He gave me several LSD trips. Some were painful. I saw myself as a baby seal clubbed and skinned alive by the hunter and left to die on an ice floe. Others were unimaginably beautiful, sensuous experiences. All were amazing adventures of the mind.

My father liked to hunt and would take me with him as a child. I’m an animal rights advocate and I don’t eat meat. My shrink and lover said I’d had a cruel childhood – my father went too far. I had profound unresolved problems with trust. Even so, he had faith that I would flourish. He wanted me to leave my husband and live with him.

I baulked. He had too many personal problems in his life.

We had crossed the boundaries and strict rules which Freud had laid down. My analysis was aborted. Irreparable damage had been done. The gods were angry, the way they can be with lovers. We ended up playing very destructive games. I said some cruel things to him. He felt eviscerated. I walked out on him forever, I thought.

I had my private breakdown. When my husband was home, I would take a shower to mask the sound of my crying. I was certain my grief would last a lifetime. I felt my loss so poignantly.

Three years later, I received a phone call from his third wife. She told me he was dying and was asking for me.

He had moved out of the city to a dismal, godforsaken town where he got work at the jail and asylum for the criminally insane.

I hesitated. It was my system to ignore such a call. I had rejected seeing my grandfather, the patriarch, when he was dying. He’d been terribly disappointed when I was born. He’d wanted me to be a boy and punished me all through my childhood. I paid him back the only way I knew how.

Somehow the universe helped me make the right decision. I flew to my dying lover’s side. It was a sweet and harrowing experience. In time, I came to realise the gift he had given me.

A love that would not leave me. There would never be a day or a night when I would not feel him beside me.

As told to Susan Chenery.

Victoria Thompson’s latest novel is The Secret Seduction and the Enigma of Attraction (Arcadia, Australian Scholarly Publishing).

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Oct 062015

When you’re writing a love story, how can you not write lovemaking scenes? It wouldn’t be a truthful picture otherwise and truth in writing is very important. It’s how you touch people. In more ways than one. When I sent Jeffrey Masson, author of “The Assault on Truth: Freud’s Suppression of The Seduction Theory”, my manuscript (his book was a great inspiration), he replied: “The sexual scenes are very erotic and have a direct and immediate effect. It will arouse the reader I can attest to that.”


Andreas and Annabelle see each other across a crowded room and feel the immediate recognition of having known each other before and forever. Goethe wrote about the mystery of attraction, and the atoms that link people to each other. Pushkin writes about Tatiana’s feelings for Onegin,

‘I saw you in my dreams; I’d waken

To know I loved you; long ago

I languished in your glance, and oh!

My soul, hearing your voice was shaken.

The moment I saw you coming,

I thrilled, my pulses started drumming,

And my heart whispered: it is he!’

The characters, Andreas Zill, a psychiatrist and Annabelle Eichler, are at very interesting stages in their lives. She’s a young woman in her thirties, at the peak of her sexuality you could say, married, disillusioned, seeking something she’s almost given up any hope of finding, until the moment she meets Andreas. He is much older, in his fifties, a dangerous time for a man—health wise and emotionally. A time when a man is facing the end of his dreams, his mortality—some try to run away by having affairs with women in their twenties, buying fast cars, changing jobs or wives. Andreas, due to his personal and marital circumstances, has given up. Until he meets Annabelle. Sex becomes a life and death experience for them—not of the violent kind, although there is emotional violence, especially from Annabelle—she uses words like a rapier—but of the fear of loving and being loved, which is a greater than the fear of death. In one scene, after they’ve made love, Andreas is staring at Annabelle. “What is it, Andreas?” she asks. He replies: “My father said something to me once I never fully understood, until this moment. Actually, it was Tolstoy who said: The moment a beautiful woman makes a man the happiest of men, he becomes the most miserable. “Why,” Annabelle asks. “Because he’s afraid of losing her. Because he doesn’t believe he’s worthy of her love.” We fear love so much. Khalil Gibran wrote: Between what is said and not meant and what is meant and not said, most of love is lost. Theirs is a romantic love, idealistic, all consuming, destructive, erotic and regenerative.


Sex has been hijacked by the abusers, the narcissists and the women haters. I’m angered and repelled by sex scenes in movies where men are battering women with their penises. It’s stomach churning. Moronic. Ugly. It doesn’t have to be like that. Women need to say, NO! It’s unacceptable. Why would you want to be treated so badly. That’s not love. I recommend girls take up martial arts. It’s very empowering. When I was a drama student in my teens, I used to carry a fencing foil—a sword really, with a blunted tip. I needed protection because I used to travel late at night on trains after appearing in a play at the Ensemble Theatre, having to stay back for notes from Hayes Gordon, the legendary teacher and director. After that, we had to sweep the theatre and wash the coffee cups from interval. It was very late at night but it really worked carrying my sword—you should have seen the looks I got—but I felt safe. Then later, I learned to protect myself and fight back with martial arts. It should be taught at school.

We need a return to gentleness. We need to reject what the pornographers have been shoving down our throats and tell them to go put their heads in a bucket (that’s being polite). While writing the sex scenes in The Secret Seduction and the Enigma of Attraction I made an interesting discovery. The ancient practice of the Tao of Sex which is touched upon in the book, revealed to me some surprises. It’s fascinating and heartening how they viewed and practiced sex. This is a quote about The Five Virtues of the Penis: “The penis is kind. It exists mainly as a tool to service the woman. Two: It is not about man’s pleasure. Three: It is courteous and polite. It knows when to advance and when to retreat. It must be made into a source of happiness, not pain. It must not be used as a weapon to hurt another. Four: It is wise. It will do everything to please and satisfy a woman. Five: It is honest. It completes its duty.” It’s probably all new to most of us but the Taoists were scientists who believed wisdom came from knowledge subject to scrutiny and deeper questioning. They held themselves to a higher ethical and moral standard. It’s what we need to do.

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Sep 162015


Two themes run through The Secret Seduction and the Enigma of Attraction”—Goethe’s “Elective Affinities” (1809),  (I call it the enigma of attraction), where atoms seek each other and connect, whether it is matter, animal or human beings. Two people find each other and great passions arise, suffering too, and undying love. You can see it in the great love stories—Romeo & Juliet, Heloise & Abelard, Tristan & Isolde, Cleopatra  & Antony, Orpheus & Eurydice. All of these stories, or myths, have tragic endings.

The other theme is what can happen during psychotherapy when two people are alone together and great intimacy occurs. Freud set a taboo—if the bounds were broken, an irreperable damage would occur.

I was fascinated when reading through the story of Tristan and Isolde how much it resonated with what happens in The Secret Seduction and the Enigma of Attraction. “There are certain things which Fate determines on very obstinately. Reason and virtue, duty and everything holy standing its way in vain. Something is set to happen as Fate sees fit but which to us does not seem fit; and at length it will accomplish its own end however we behave,” wrote Goethe. “Affinities are only really interesting when they bring about separations.”

Tristan and Isolde (from AmO Life)

tristanThe tragic love story of Tristan and Isolde has been told and retold through various stories and manuscripts. It takes place during medieval times during the reign of King Arthur. Isolde of Ireland was the daughter of the King of Ireland. She was betrothed to King Mark of Cornwall. King Mark sent his nephew, Tristan, to Ireland to escort Isolde back to Cornwall. During the voyage, Isolde and Tristan fell forever in love. Isolde did marry Mark of Cornwall, but could not help but love Tristan. The love affair continued after the marriage. When King Mark finally learned of the affair, he forgave Isolde, but Tristan was banned from Cornwall. Tristan went to Brittany. There he met Iseult of Brittany. He was attracted to her because of the similarity of her name to his true love. He married her, but did not consummate the marriage because of his love for the “true” Isolde. After falling ill, he sent for Isolde in hopes that she would be able to cure him. If she agreed to come, the returning ship’s sails would be white, or the sails would be black if she did not agree. Iseult, seeing the white sails, lied to Tristan and told him that the sails were black. He died of grief before Isolde could reach him. Isolde died soon after of a broken heart.

Sep 152015

The Secret Seduction_cover_B and W__facebook profileThe Secret Seduction and the Enigma of Attraction is based on a true story Victoria wrote when she was a young woman but abandoned because of its very personal content. John Mitchell, psychoanalyst/psychotherapist and bookshop owner, encouraged her to re-work it because, he said, there is a great need for the story to be told — more people are seeing psychotherapists now than ever before. “And besides, it is such a damn good story!”

This book is important because it documents the dangers and pitfalls of what can happen during psychotherapy sessions. When two people are alone together, great intimacy develops; an emotional bond occurs between them. Freud maintained this was a necessary part of the process — for the patient to develop a transference onto the psychiatrist. Sometimes, something very dangerous and destructive happens — the countertransference. Countertransference is defined as redirection of a psychotherapist‘s feelings towards a client—or, more generally, as a therapist’s emotional entanglement with a client. Not much is written about this process — it is uncharted territory — and yet it occurs — with disastrous consequences for the patient, and also for the therapist.

Author and psychoanalyst, Jeffrey M Masson offered a quote after reading The Secret Seduction and the Enigma of Attractioncalling the story “erotic and hypnotic.” Anouska Jones, publishing consultant wrote: “An immensely talented writer. This is a very beautiful and compelling story. Would attract a cross-over readership of those who want to lose themselves in a tangled story of love, lust and betrayal, as well as those who are interested in psychology, and also drawn to literary fiction.”  Lee Kofman, author, wrote: “Victoria Thompson writes erotica so well and so bravely. The sensuality of this book is outstanding. But of course it isn’t its main theme. I read this as a haunting tale of two complicated, wounded, intelligent people trying to redeem themselves through each other, looking for salvation and almost finding it. This is a heartbreaking book.” And James Cowan, international best selling author and recipient of the prestigious ALS Gold Medal for literature: “This remarkable author has taken her reader to a place where few writers have been before. The professional bond between therapist and patient has at last been broken; now we are able to explore its tragic consequences. The Secret Seduction and the Enigma of Attraction glows like cobalt: its colours are often passionate, moving, and sad.”


The Secret Seduction & The Enigma of Attraction
Record crowd, record book sales at the launch of The Secret Seduction & The Enigma of Attraction last night.

James Cowan’s amazing speech at the book launch:
“Occasionally a book comes along which tests our capacity for honesty. This might sound surprising given that most novelists today would maintain that they present material to us that does just this. It is hard to write a novel that is psychologically exact, however. It is even harder to do so when dealing with the business of psychology itself – in this case, more specifically, psychiatry, and the relationship between clinician and patient.
Victoria Thompson has written just such a novel. She has taken on the unenviable task of peeling back the layers of secrecy that surround the inner workings of a psychiatrist’s practice in an attempt to shine a light on what can happen when patient and doctor find themselves unable to contain any normal professional etiquette.

In psychiatric terms, this is called transference and counter-transference. But in human terms it is known as love. Love is not a psychiatric condition, however, as we all know; and yet, in that particular psychiatric theatre, where mental aberration can sometimes be the norm, it can often be clouded by past guilt on the part of both parties involved. People surrender to their pasts, their loss and feeling of worthlessness, even as they struggle to maintain their emotional detachment.

One might blame the clinician for allowing such an event to happen. One might even blame the patient for projecting his or her deepest yearnings onto a person who ‘seems’ to be normal. In the end, when a line has been crossed, certain forces are released which are both powerful and uncontrollable. The two characters in Victoria’s novel, Andreas and Annabelle, cross that line. And they suffer the consequences.

Eros, in other words, becomes their panacea. It helps to smooth the edges of guilt, their past guilt, by way of a new dispensation – that of sensual pleasure. Victoria’s novel explores that realm painfully, and in depth. Her characters wrestle with their physical emotions in a bid to veil the terrain of their original sense of guilt. Of course, it doesn’t work for them in the long term. Andreas and Annabelle are forced to confront what inner growth means to each of them – and how that growth is being eroded by their misplaced allegiance to Eros.

Suffering, or course, is the result. Victoria’s characters do so terribly. They do not go through the motions of simply being so on paper; they reach out to us, to our own penchant for suffering, and make their ours. From a writer’s point of view, this is very hard to do – and is, in itself, quite an achievement. To experience anguish on paper is worse, sometimes, than suffering itself. Why? Because you begin to plumb its depths – to go beyond self-analysis towards the distant peak of understanding the truth of yourself.

A few great novelists of the past have made such a journey. I am thinking of Malcolm Lowry in his novel, Under the Volcano, where he traced out the anguish in the life of the Consul caused by alcoholism, all against a backdrop of Mexican madness and excess. The pain is acute and death-destined because of it. Loss of self, an inability to regain the harmony and balance of that self, inevitably leads to a painful outcome. Victoria’s novel charts the same landscape: soul-death is inescapable in one way or another.
In Benjamin Constant’s short novel of the early 19th century, Adolphe, a similar trail of suffering is evoked. An impossible love is played out between two characters, both of them mirroring real life people, the author himself and his elderly mistress, the legendary Madame de Stael, to the point where death ensues. It is as if a love that reaches beyond societal limits is doomed. And this is precisely what The Secret Seduction reminds us of.

Transgressing societal norms permeates Western literature as a theme. Whether it is Helen running off with Paris in The Iliad, or Anthony falling in love with Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s play, or Aeneas leaving Dido behind in Carthage in Virgil’s epic, The Aeneid, all these great events lead to a tragic outcome. A prolonged war, the loss of Egypt, and the death of two queens are the predictable outcome of such transgressions. People’s lives, spurred on by an overreaching and passionate love, are destroyed. When characters such as Andreas and Annabelle step outside their fictional norms, as they do in Victoria Thompson’s new novel, they become enmeshed in their own mutual feeling of guilt and loss.

Yet there is a redemptive aspect to it, and Victoria’s book is careful to emphasize this in her characters understanding of themselves. “You want what you fear most,” Andreas says to Annabelle, as he too comes to terms with his life dilemma. Loss and enchantment bedeviled both characters, and lead them to their respective crises, and the necessary setting-free from their respective prisons.
In the Prophetiae Merlini, one of the lesser known stories in the Arthurian legends, for example, the sprite Niniane envelops the sage in a skein of air in the forest of Brocéliande, visible as mist to others, but as a beautiful tower to him. Arthur, thankfully, never escapes his enchantment, unfortunately, whereas Victoria’s characters do. The mist clears for them, even as a sadness ensues. Unfortunately, it does not for Merlin, who remains in his mist-enshrouded universe for all time, a prisoner of enchantment.
This remarkable new book by Victoria Thompson partakes of important literary themes. Guilt, eroticism, love, loss and enchantment, these permeate the pages of The Secret Seduction. She speaks of what Goethe called Elective Affinities, and what draws people together in spite of their differences. I like to think of it in a more French way, in what they call les atoms cruchus, that of ‘linked atoms.’ People are linked by an alignment of spiritual atoms which they are often powerless to resist.

It is a sensibility all but removed from modern consciousness, and demands a particular impetus to bring it to life in our time. Benjamin Constant did it for his time as I have already mentioned. Andre Gide did it in his novel The Pastoral Symphony also, where he explores the tragedy of lost innocence between a pastor and a blind girl. Karen Blixen gives us another example of les atoms cruchus in her great work, Out of Africa, in the lives of herself and Denys Finch-Hatten, the big-game hunter, who both love one another deeply, in spite of their overriding need to be free.
Les atoms crochus, these elective affinities as Goethe called them, therefore trigger in us into a more intense, and sometime beautiful relationship with one another. This is how Victoria’s novel depicts it.

I therefore commend The Secret Seduction, and the Enigma of Attraction to you all tonight as an example of les atoms crochus, and the power of seduction. It is a spare and demanding book. While on the surface it is about transgression on the psychiatrist’s couch, and the dilemmas that ensue, it is about much more.
Victoria Thompson asks us to look into our own hearts, consider how we in turn might have crossed the line at some point in our lives, and try to make peace with ourselves. As vulnerable people all of us we have that right, even if we choose not to put aside our burden – but instead, carry it as a memory.
Thank you.”