Psychoanalytical Notes upon an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides): Mrs Bentley in Sinclair Ross's As for Me and My House
- University of Toronto Quarterly
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 73, Number 3, Summer 2004
- pp. 862-886
- View Citation
- Additional Information
university of toronto quarterly, volume 73, number 3, summer 2004 D.M.R. BENTLEY Psychoanalytical Notes upon an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides): Mrs Bentley in Sinclair Ross=s As for Me and My House Few tropes have been more ubiquitous in Canadian criticism of the last two decades or more than the trope of >construction.= To read almost any cross-section of recent writing about Canadian literature is to learn that everything from landscapes to >Others= has been so consistently >constructed= in works written in and about Canada and its peoples that scarcely any aspect of the country or its population has been left unpaved by the literary equivalent of that most infernal of construction crews, Satan, Sin, and Death in the second book of Paradise Lost. From time to time a few voices have called attention to the problems raised by the notion of >construction=1 but, by and large, the trope continues to thrive in Canadian literary discourse, one sustaining reason being that it provides a pretext for the application of a loose form of deconstruction to literary and critical texts that are deemed to be in need of demolition or, at least, postmodernization. Only rarely has attention been focused on the deliberate construction of characters and narrators in works of Canadian literature and, within that, on the materials from which those characters have been constructed. It is on the basis of this builderly conception of construction that the essay underway will approach Sinclair Ross=s As for Me and My House (1941) and, particularly, the character of the novel=s narrator. Mrs Bentley is of course one of the most complex and controversial constructions in Canadian literature.2 Perceived by many early readers and critics of As for Me and My House as kindhearted and long-suffering (a view still entertained by numerous first-time readers of the novel), Mrs Bentley has also been seen, to a greater or lesser extent, as hypocritical and manipulative. Critical and classroom discussions of Mrs Bentley frequently I am grateful to Russell Brown, David Clark, Nicholas Halmi, Ken a case of paranoia: mrs bentley in AS FOR ME AND MY HOUSE 863 Parades, Mark Roberts, Zvi Lothane, and J.M. Zezulka for information and suggestions that were extremely useful in the researching and writing of this essay. A copy of the typescript of an earlier version of the essay appears in Actas del 25E Congresso 2001 Aedean, a CD edited by Marta Falces Sierra and others, and produced by Bernardi Producciones of Cordoba, Spain. 1See, for example, Hacking, 67, Hulan, 16B17, and Bentley, The Gay]Grey Moose, 10. 2Stouck provides convenient access to much of the criticism generated by Ross=s novel prior to 1991 and Moss includes several essays that deal with the novel. turn on the question of whether she is a reliable or an unreliable narrator, a binarism that sometimes tends to obscure the obvious fact that all first-person narratives require the reader to rely on the narrator for certain kinds of information (about objects and occurrences, for example) while also trying to infer emotions, motives, and preoccupations that the narrator either does not adequately recognize or does not accurately report. As Lorraine McMullen puts it, >Mrs. Bentley is ... not a reliable narrator; she is sufficiently dependable that we may accept her reports of actual events, but we must be aware that her interpretation of these events, and her selection of the details to report and those to omit, will influence our ability to interpret ... episodes and those involved in them. ... When she is inaccurate in her assumptions or conclusions she is self-deceiving as well as deceiving of the reader= (59). Given Ross=s admiration for the work of Christopher Isherwood (see Fraser, 34 and 92),1 there can be little doubt that he gave great thought to the narrative position in As for Me and My House and took great pains to construct a narrator whose character B the I behind the eye B is central to the novel and crucial to its interpretation. In Tristram Shandy, the characters and the narrator are constructed by Sterne from post-Lockean theories...