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.
BACKGROUND TO “THE SECRET SEDUCTION AND THE ENIGMA OF ATTRACTION”
Published in the Sun-Herald and The Age Sunday Life Magazine.
January 31, 2016
“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).