New 44 Scotland Street Chapter 48: Little Hans, the Wolf Man, etc.

Elspeth had wasted no time in putting into effect the plan upon which she and Matthew had agreed with James.

Wednesday, 14th October 2020, 7:00 am
44 Scotland Street
44 Scotland Street

The essence of the scheme was that James should be relieved of some, although not all, of his duties as an au pair, by the engagement of an assistant. The major part of these duties consisted of looking after Mathew and Elspeth’s energetic and highly demanding triplets, Fergus, Tobermory, and Rognvald. That was a job at which he had excelled, effortlessly managing these rambunctious toddlers, involving them in physical activities designed to use up their endless capacity for rushing around – although they never did completely deplete their stores of energy – and somehow marshalling them so that they could be clothed, fed, and washed, and then – twelve hours later, read a bedtime story before being returned to bed. In her more despairing moments, Elspeth reflected on how the whole regime seemed to be an exercise in containment aimed at stopping the boys from destroying too much, from climbing and then falling out of trees, from running off into the mists of the Pentland hills, and of falling foul of the ill-tempered Highland cattle that grazed a field adjacent to their garden. It was a task that she felt, quite frankly, she was unable to perform unaided, and James had been a godsend. His rapport with the boys, established within minutes of his arrival, had meant that they listened to him and, for the most part, did his bidding. Neither parent knew, or even suspected, that although James had a natural ability to win over anybody, including small children, he had made it clear to the triplets that they were to obey him and cause no trouble. This he had done by whispering in the ear of each of them, “If you are naughty, you know what will happen? One of those Highland cows out there will come and bite you. Hard!”

It had worked perfectly. Whenever there was an outbreak of tantrums or even a surly refusal to do as bidden, James would simply mutter Highland cows! and the child in question would immediately comply with whatever was asked of him. James had not thought of the psychological consequences that can follow upon threatening a child with a vivid sanction, nor of the power that a fear of being bitten by an animal may hold. He was unfamiliar with the locus classicus of such a question, Freud’s extraordinary case of Little Hans, the small boy whose analysis at one remove – Little Hans’s father reported to Freud what his son said and asked his son the questions that Freud suggested he ask – was to become a landmark case in the Freudian movement. Little Hans was worried that the dray horses he saw in the street would bite him, a fear that Freud quite reasonably interpreted as being in reality a fear that his father would castrate him for desiring his mother. It is difficult, of course, to see what else the basis of such a fear could be, other than that horses are large creatures occasionally known to bite people. Such a naïve view, of course, ignores the glaring fact that the horse represented the father and the black hair around the horse’s mouth clearly stood for the father’s moustache.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Little Hans survived to become a successful producer of operas in Europe and America. He left his childhood phobias behind him and led a happy and constructive life. By contrast, Sergei Pankejeff, another of Freud’s famous patients, did not fare so well. Pankejeff became known in Freudian literature as the Wolf Man, a sobriquet derived from a very important dream he had in which he saw wolves sitting in trees. Freud decided that this dream was the result of the Wolf Man’s having witnessed, as a child, parental intimacy – known in Freudian terms as the primal scene. This is something best not seen by small children, or indeed by larger children, or by anybody else really. In Panjekeff’s case it led to six decades of psychoanalysis – one of the longest analyses on record. Freud had declared the Wolf Man to be cured, but this appeared not to be the case, and years later he might be seen standing in the street staring into a mirror, convinced that a doctor had drilled a hole in his nose. Most noses do, in fact, have two holes, but this, presumably, was a supernumerary one. Pankejeff wrote a memoir, The Wolf Man, in which he discussed his condition and his prolonged engagement with psychoanalysis; he was never very happy, and interminable analysis did little to relieve his angst.

Sixty years of analysis seem a long time during which to contemplate one’s psyche. In one case, though, the analysis might be seen as lasting for eternity. This is suggested by the history of psychoanalytical movement in Morocco, not the most receptive territory for Freudian ideas. Very few psychoanalysts have practised in Morocco, although for a brief period after the fall of the Vichy regime, French analysts who had been compromised by their association with a collaborationist school of analysis, retreated to Casablanca, where they opened a psychoanalytical institute. Their patients might have remained in France, but did not, such is the dependence that might develop between analyst and analysand. They accompanied their analysts into exile, and when, in due course, both patients and analysts died, they were buried side by side. So the patients lie for eternity, on an earthly couch, silent beside their equally silent analysts.

James thought of none of this when he discovered this convenient way of ensuring good behaviour on the triplets’ part. And it is entirely possible that the boys were unscarred by the whispered threat and developed no phobias relating to Highland cows. A Highland cow, after all, features on the wrapper of a well-known brand of Scottish toffee, and James was liberal in distributing sticks of this toffee to his young charges. The association of Highland cows with the pleasure of a mouthful of McCowan’s Highland Toffee probably outweighed any negative association, or any incipient Oedipal issues, and thereby avoided any need for future analysis. Toffee, of course, confers an additional benefit in child-rearing: a child whose teeth are stuck together with toffee for long periods is unlikely to girn or ask interminable questions, giving an exhausted mother a few moments of peace. Such a fix might help parents at the end of their tether, but is frowned upon in the enlightened circles in which Matthew and Elspeth certainly saw themselves moving. But there are many things disapproved of in enlightened circles that actually work rather well in the real, even if unenlightened, world.