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Sunhill Asylum, October 30, 1963

Dr. Hardy leans back on his chair and says:

‘Jack Vallis is a religious maniac; he claims that Darwin’s Origin of Species is a satanic conspiracy, and that Man did not evolve from apes, but was created by the direct operation of God. Such childish delusions are typical of psycho-neurotics—especially sexual psycho-neurotics. His denial of external facts is symptomatic of his inner sexual repression. Indeed, the patient has a predisposition to repress the truth as much as his own sexuality; it is simply because he deviates from the norm by such a large degree, that the modern world appears preposterous to him. Evolution, science, technology, the telephone, the motor car—all these things he regards as evils. That’s why he refuses industrial therapy.’

Dr. Torris stops writing and glances over the rim of her spectacles:

‘Industrial therapy? And what does that involve exactly?’

‘Oh, it’s all quite menial really. The residents manufacture tiddlywinks, stink-bombs and jigsaw puzzles for Woolworths. But the patient is frightened by the noise of the machines.’

‘What other therapies have you tried?’

‘L.S.D. Several doses have been administered during the past year. Unfortunately, this experimental approach only exacerbated his condition.’

‘Which is?’

‘The psychic disposition of the patient is unusual on several counts; first and foremost is his transsexualis pathologica, which contains an immense amount of sexual conflict; he possesses an unusual tendency to perversions in the broadest sense. For example, his recurrent infantilism.’

Infantilism?

‘You are not familiar with the condition? The patient likes to dress as a baby girl and can only sleep in a nappy and plastic pants.’

‘He’s a paedophile?’

‘No. He desires to be a baby, not be with other children. He sucks his thumb and reverts to an infantile state whenever the opportunity arises. Consequently he cannot fulfil any useful role in society.’

‘What brought him here in the first place?’

‘He jumped from a train. Underneath his overcoat he wore a bodice, corset, and a chemise with fine stockings and garters. Since he was four he was troubled by a desire to wear his sister’s Christening dress. When he finally left home to become an art student, he spent all his money on oversized baby clothes and articles of female clothing. To put on such garments is the entire aim of his sexual instinct. Curiously, although he believes he is a woman trapped in a man’s body, he has no feminine traits. I have carried out a full clinical examination and found no congenital abnormalities such as somatic hermaphroditism, or any other genital deformities. Before he came to us he was destitute; when not devoting his mind to religious subjects, he lapsed into intervals of ether intoxication and chronic masturbation. His health rapidly failed, especially in the trophic functions. He suffered insomnia, became severely anorexic, and the psoriasis that troubled him since youth, flared up all over his body.’

‘What about his family life?’

‘No mother or father to speak of. Vallis was born in a Catholic home for unmarried mothers and spent his early life in care. At the age of three he was fostered by a midwife from Liverpool, but she died when he was twelve.’

‘Any brothers or sisters?’

‘No. But there’s an interesting note in his medical records. When the patient was seven, he was admitted to hospital with chronic abdominal pain. They diagnosed acute appendicitis and operated. But instead of finding a swollen appendix, they found a parasitic twin.’

‘A twin? Growing inside him?’

‘Yes. A Cyclops, thriving in a sac of amniotic remnant. I believe the medical term is Cyclopean Endocyma. The parasite was little more than a foetus, about four inches long. Female apparently. They shared the same placenta in the womb, but during development, one twin enfolded the other. The specimen was unique in that it seemed fully conscious. It now resides in a jar of formalin at the Welcome museum, Liverpool.’

‘How tragic.’

‘Fortunately such cases are rare. Children with an included foetus usually die at birth; or the parasite excites peritonitis and degenerates. Sometimes the foetus is discharged through the abdominal wall. I read of one case where a whole foetus was expelled from the abdomen of a six year old girl who lived on a further seventeen years…[i] But that is by-the-by. Now, where were we?’

‘His foster mother.’

‘Oh yes. After her death, Vallis was put into care. But he quarrelled with other boys and began self harming—cutting his arms with a razor blade. Around this time Vallis started playing truant from school. One afternoon he saw ‘Gone With The Wind’ at the cinema. It was a revelation to him. For he suddenly realised that he wanted to be Scarlet, and he developed an uncontrollable fetish for taffeta and silk. The compulsion to wear women’s clothes overwhelmed him – so much so, that he took to thieving from department stores. During his teenage years his delinquent behaviour got him into trouble with the law. He was arrested for stealing petticoats from a washing line and spent two years in a remand home.’

‘Is he dangerous?’

‘I don’t believe so; if he was, he’d be locked up in Broadmoor. Besides, Jack Vallis is plagued with self-loathing and disgust. As a woman born in a man’s body, he believes himself hideously deformed. That’s why he prefers solitary confinement to the company of others. The isolation ward is the best place for him.’

‘You keep him confined at all times?’

‘Dr. Torris, you must understand that his regressive behaviour is hardly beneficial to the mental health of other hysterics. Jack Vallis makes a débâcle out of everything – throwing lavatory rolls like streamers, or waltzing up and down the corridors like Widow Twanky. This is a hospital, not a pantomime. His flaunting about in female attire is disturbing to other inmates, especially the women. He looks utterly repulsive. Frightening, even.’

‘Why not confiscate his garments?’

‘We did, the moment he arrived. But Vallis shut down and became cataleptic for six months; it was only when we returned his female clothes that he resumed a normal state of consciousness. Shortly after, he took to thieving corsets from the laundry; he has broken into the female wards repeatedly, and stolen undergarments, shoes, and even a wig. He insists he cannot help himself nor live any other way. The compulsion to dress overwhelms him. Of course, he compensates for his perversions with a Christ fixation. All this must be taken into account when considering the restriction of his freedom, especially in light of his repeated escapes to church. Fortunately, the priest is a close personal friend of mine, and also a devout atheist.’

‘An atheist priest?’

‘The patients believe him a holy man of god, but he’s little more than a glorified social worker in a frock. I dread to think what would happen if they discovered Jesus was in league with the psychiatric establishment; the conflict of shame and religious fervour would surely erupt into violence.’

‘And what about Vallis?’

‘Oh, he saw through the priest years ago.’

‘And how is his mental functioning otherwise?’

‘Besides his transsexualism, Vallis has problems with Time; judging Time; estimating Time. He believes Sunhill is a Limbo imposed on him by the gods; a Limbo he can’t escape without their grace and favour. As far as Vallis is concerned, Time does not even exist in Sunhill. The precinct wall is a boundary or “limbus” to Oblivion; and to venture beyond the gates will annihilate the soul. Of course, this delusion never prevents him from pleading his freedom…’

‘Have you tried appealing to his common sense?’

‘In what way, precisely?’

‘Well, have you marched him to the gates, and shown him the world beyond?’

‘Of course. But he always has a counter-argument ready to diffuse the facts. Believe me, his mind is most resourceful! According to Vallis, the world beyond the gates is just an illusion, and the doctors are all dreaming. He maintains the Limbo of Sunhill is the true reality, and regards himself as the only sane person here.’

‘I see.’

‘As you know, the Freudian concept of the ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passions. But with Vallis, the ego and id can most accurately be described as a continuum.’

‘That’s hardly surprising, since the id concept includes ideas, memories, symbols, and mechanisms: therefore it cannot be without some structure. Forgive me Dr. Hardy, but I am not a firm proponent of Freud’s conceptualization of ego and id. In fact, I believe the ego is always subservient to the id.’

‘Granted. But ego development in a healthy person is a process of differentiation that leads to an almost complete demarcation of ego and id – of self and outer reality. But not with Vallis. He has a strong tendency to schizophrenic delusions; for example, he hears voices and believes he is being persecuted, even by those who are trying to help him. His paranoia manifests in all the usual ways: he is infallibly perceptive, prone to suspicion, and easily offended. He often bursts into tears at any harsh reproof or takes umbrage at a cross look. However humane or judicious my approach, he will always accuse me of stupidity, levity or ridicule. He has a cutting wit that can be quite offensive. The multitude of thoughts that crowd upon his brain are often expressed in rapid speech. His thoughts seem to chase one another, yet he always remains lucid and coherent. He often complains of loss of inheritance, but moments later will boast of boundless wealth, superior intellect, or the plots of conspirators, etcetera. And this is where it gets interesting… To escape reality, he has constructed a complex alter-ego called Jacques Vallin – an imaginary character from the middle ages.’

‘Fascinating. But why the middle ages? And why a man, if he regards himself a woman?’

‘I like that: you’re asking all the right questions. His alter-ego spends his days in a fantasy realm of angels and demons. The most remarkable feature of this particular delusion is his conviction that he can perform miracles. He likens himself to Christ, not only in his suffering, but in his supernatural gifts. His claims are quite ludicrous; for example, he can walk on water; fly through the air; commune with faeries; conjure up storms; travel through Time; and bring about Apocalypse.’

‘Extraordinary. He sounds quite intelligent.’

‘That is the impression he likes to give. But when I asked how he travels through Time, he tried to bluff me. He claimed that Einstein had made a fundamental flaw in the laws of relativity; so I politely inquired if he could explain the laws of relativity, whereupon he scoffed and said: “I flout them with impunity.”

‘A grandiose remark, typical of a psychopath.’

‘My sentiments entirely. Yet I was intrigued. For it struck me that the cure to his derangement lay not in the analysis of his own psyche, but rather in that of his alter-ego, Jacques Vallin. However, when I tried to speak with Jacques, the patient refused and demanded pen and paper. My initial fear was that he would use the pen to harm himself or the wardens. But my fears were unfounded; provided the nurses dress him as baby girl, he remains docile and cooperative. Indeed, being dressed in this manner is the only treatment that alleviates his neurosis.’

‘What about electro-convulsive-therapy?’

‘He’s had thirty sessions in all, administered by Dr. Pontius. But this was stopped on my instruction.’

‘Stopped? Why?’

‘Vallis went into cardiac arrest. He was clinically dead for ten minutes. Fortunately a nurse managed to revive him with mouth to mouth. But she was so disgusted by the whole affair that she resigned the following day.’

‘How terrible. Ten minutes is long time to go without oxygen. Did Vallis suffer any brain damage?’

Hardy throws up his hands:

Brain damage? Call me old fashioned, but I find the eulogists of E.C.T. to be immoral blockheads. A person is defined by their memories; but E.C.T. destroys those memories. Destroy the memories and you destroy the person. Some patients have had whole chapters of their lives erased; others are total amnesiacs; every time they try to read a book they can’t get past page ten because they forget the narrative. E.C.T. might appear to offer some temporary benefit, but the truth is, it causes irreparable harm.’

‘I’ve read it can be beneficial in some cases.’

Hardy begins to tremble and pulls off his spectacles:

‘Beneficial? Most of the literature is from doctors who evaluate their own work! What you have read is clinical propaganda! Take a stroll down the wards and you will see the consequences of E.C.T. for yourself: loss of motor function; incontinence; epilepsy; cognitive impairment; destruction of the personality; patients lacking tact and empathy. What’s beneficial about that? Of course, my opinion is not shared by the other clinicians—especially Dr. Pontius who is a strong advocate of E.C.T. We had a talented young girl who came to us last Spring—a virtuoso pianist who became clinically depressed after the birth of her first child. It was just a mild case of post-partum psychosis. But when Pontius had finished zapping her brain, she had all the personality of a turnip. She now spends her days in a catatonic state, endlessly pouring sand into an overflowing cup. Between you and me, that’s why I was forced into early retirement: I refused to play along with Pontius and his Ectron machines.’

‘Forgive me. I didn’t know you were leaving under such grave circumstances.’

‘As my replacement, you will have much to contend with, not least Dr. Pontius, who thinks turning patients into vegetables qualifies as humane treatment. Using electricity to shock the brain into seizure is barbaric; any seizure is prima facie evidence of brain damage.’

‘Yet some patients report feelings of euphoria after E.C.T.’

‘Indeed. But did you know that euphoria is also a frequent symptom of brain injury?’

‘No, I didn’t know that.’

She presses her lips together and looks down at the carpet. There follows an awkward silence. A trolley rattles past the door and a lunatic gibbers in a distant ward. Hardy draws his spectacles back over his ears and says:

‘I’m sorry if I came across as impertinent. I didn’t mean to discourage you. You’re young, idealistic and full of good intentions; you have a whole career ahead of you. But if you’re going to live and work within these walls, you should be aware of what’s going on. I’m ashamed to admit that our profession has a long history of hurting, torturing and injuring people. If you ask me, Pontius and his minions would be better employed by the Holy Inquisition. Electrical lobotomy. I cannot condone such treatment, not by long chalk. Anyway, I felt it my duty to inform you of the facts.’

‘I see. Well, you’ve made your position very clear. And I respect your opinion on the matter.’

‘You’re very tactful, aren’t you Dr. Torris? Do you have an opinion of your own, or are you just sitting on the fence? I mean to say, what will you do when Pontius greets you one morning and demands to zap my patient?’

‘I’ll cross that bridge when I come it. And Vallis won’t be your patient, he’ll be mine.’

Hardy fixes her with an icy glare. Torris writhes in her seat, studies her notes then says:

‘Er, is there any specific medication I should be aware of?’

‘Vallis has been prescribed all the usual anti-psychotics. He also has Sulphonal in thirty grain doses every night, but this has recently been substituted for Paraldehyde due to the onset of seizures. Despite his medication, he writes incessantly. He keeps a journal: it’s an arrangement between us. But this isn’t just any journal; the writing is most inventive and has all the hallmarks of a Latin scholar.’

‘Interesting. Does Jack Vallis have any formal qualifications?’

‘None. His school records are unremarkable in this respect, as he showed little aptitude for any subject. However, he claims to have worked at Mullards in Blackburn.’

‘Mullards?’

‘They manufacture thermionic valves for use in radio and television. But the foreman denies ever knowing Jack Vallis, and no record of his employment exists. Yet Vallis knows everything about Mullards – from all the department codes, right down to production cycle details.’

‘Well, perhaps he did work there.’

‘As a cleaner perhaps. But Vallis claims he worked in research and development. His work was top secret, apparently. Fantasists often spin yarns. Delirious and confused conditions occur repeatedly in manic-depressive disorders. Such phenomena are characterized by a disturbance of consciousness and a very rich fantasy life with fast-changing sensory illusions. His journal is full of it.’

‘Can I see?’

Hardy smiles:

‘You seem quite eager to get your hands on it.’

‘You said yourself, it bears all the hallmarks of a scholar.’

‘Indeed, it’s full of Latin quotations. But that doesn’t prove anything, does it? I mean, we can all make ourselves appear clever. Especially in writing.’

‘Did you get a second opinion?’

‘Naturally. I showed it to a professor of medieval history at Lancaster University; he studied the journal for two months, but then decried it as the work of a pseudo-intellectual. He said Vallis had simply copied quotations from a famous Latin phrasebook. Perhaps the professor is right; on the other hand, perhaps he’s just jealous.’

‘Jealous? Why?’

‘Academia is rife with intellectual vanity. The universities fester with a very modern poison – a consensus that unqualified persons should not be allowed to create great works of art, literature, science or anything else. When such works come to light, they get sequestered by the establishment. I find it baffling. The journal is profusely littered with footnotes and specialised bibliographic references, yet the patient has no access to any such books. Our community library is very basic indeed. Which means all those references must be in his head, because I’ve checked each one, including the page numbers, and everything correlates perfectly, quote for quote, word for word.’

‘Perhaps Vallis has a photographic memory.’

‘Yes, a photographic memory is certainly one explanation. So you will understand my instruction to stop E.C.T. which obliterates memory. I can only conclude that despite his sexual perversions, the patient is an autistic savant. Of course, it is hopeless to attempt to convince you of the truth of this statement without supplying the evidence which I have collated over many years… It’s all in his file. I presume that’s what you came for?’

Hardy opens his drawer and removes a tattered foolscrap file which is ringed with tea stains. He puts it on the desk and taps it with his finger nail:

‘It’s all here: The Trial of Jacques Vallin: a door into the mind of a madman. The journal is profusely illustrated – like an illuminated manuscript – some is even written on parchment.’

‘Parchment?’

‘The origin of which is a complete mystery. The patient is brimming with fiction. I myself feature in the plot; so does Pontius. Even you are in it.’

Me? How? I haven’t even met Jack Vallis.’

‘No. But your name appears on the very first page – and that was penned in 1957.’

‘That’s impossible. I wasn’t qualified in 1957. Jack Vallis must have added my name at a later date.’

‘Possibly. But either way, he knew you were coming.’

‘How did he know? Did you tell him?’

Hardy scratches his head:

‘No, I didn’t. Perhaps Dr. Pontius told him.’

‘And why would he do that?’

‘Pontius sees himself vindicated by your arrival. After all, you were approved by the board of clinical psychology, and Pontius has made a career out of psycho-surgery. As far as Pontius is concerned, you’re an ally in the making. You see, Pontius doesn’t have patients—he has puppets—puppets he likes to coerce into submission. When I’m gone, Pontius will have carte blanche to do exactly as he pleases. So perhaps he threatened Vallis in some way. I don’t know for sure.’

‘I see. Well, I’ll reserve judgement until I have assessed the patient myself.’

Hardy slides the file across the desk and Torris tucks it in her satchel:

‘Thank you Dr. Hardy. I’m sure I will find it very interesting.’

‘Call me Robert… Personally speaking, I find it to be the maddest thing I’ve ever read. I must confess, you will be doing me a great favour in taking this case off my hands. I’m not as young as I used to be, and the patient has exhausted me.’

‘You sound like you’ll be glad to see the back of him.’

‘I will. But so will everyone else—the attendants, nurses and clinicians. Jack Vallis is a highly demanding and compulsive neurotic; he has proved resilient to all forms of punishment, including hydrotherapy and the straight-jacket. You must remember: this is the largest asylum in Britain—the second largest in Europe—and we’re running under-staffed and over budget. The staff must divide their time equally amongst the inmates. There’s a strong consensus that a full frontal lobotomy would be highly beneficial—not just for Vallis, but for all concerned. My refusal to grant permission did not go down well with the board. Especially with Pontius, who performs lobotomies at the drop of a hat. I fail to understand how anyone who is qualified in medicine, can bring himself to carry out such out a hideous procedure; as if mutilating the brain can ever improve its function; I mean, why turn a functional neurotic into a moronic imbecile? I trust you will support me in this matter?’

‘I will do my best. May I see the patient for myself?

‘I’m sorry, but that is not possible today: he’s heavily sedated. Staff are scarce but drugs are plenty: a sad fact of asylum life.’

‘Can I at least visit his cell?’

‘Er, forgive me doctor, but I am unable to oblige. Vallis resides in the West Annex which is currently infested with vermin. Rentokill are coming from Kirkby this afternoon; they want to lay traps overnight. Read the file when you get home, and you can visit the patient tomorrow. I will be interested to know your verdict. You come highly recommended.’

‘Oh, my qualifications are nothing to your long years of experience.’

‘I regret to say that life within these walls has left me bitter and disillusioned. The long years of treating neurotics leaves its mark on the psyche. To open yourself up to the tortured feelings of the insane can be very disturbing. Nevertheless, I hope you will be very happy here.’

‘I’m looking forward to it. A pity I can’t meet Vallis before I go.’

‘Be forewarned: his mind is an abyss of invention; it is very easy to get drawn into his fantasies. On no account let him touch you, even if he asks to hold your hand. I cannot stress the importance of this. To be touched by him is to become… bewitched.’

She hoots with mirth:

Bewitched? Oh really Robert! Are you serious?’

‘I don’t mean to sound superstitious, but the patient has a peculiar hypnotic ability. No doubt it’s just some parlour trick he picked up on his travels. I’m unable to ascertain how it works, but I can assure you that it does work. I have even fallen victim to it myself…’

‘What happened?’ asks Torris, concerned.

Hardy refuses to answer. He goes to the window and wipes the misty pane which squeaks under his fingertips. Then he peers out at the farm where inmates stoop over the furrows, harvesting cabbage. Beyond the Gothic façade of the West Annex, the distant moors are veiled in mist. Hardy seems lost in the bleakness and mutters garbled words. At length he turns round and says:

‘Freud was right: the whole progress of civilization consists largely in a sublimation of the infantile instincts – especially the sexual instincts – to other ends than those which they are designed to serve. That’s why we have art, poetry and literature. That’s why I gave Jack Vallis a pen. His pen is his sole consolation in the world, and as such it is your only bargaining tool. Take away his pen, and you take away his freedom.’

‘I understand. Thank you for your time and putting me in the picture.’

Torris rises from her chair, simultaneously adjusting her skirt with a deft flick of the wrist. She smiles cordially and offers her hand across the desk:

‘It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Dr. Hardy.’

But Hardy ignores her and fixes his gaze on the West Annex where a lone raven caws on the ramparts:

‘Bewitched,’ he mutters.

Copyright © Nicholas Shea 1992-2017

Image: “Abandon Hope All Ye Transsexuals – Jill awoke to find herself at the sharp end of the Freudian Inquisition”. Original watercolour and ink on Fabriano+ Artistico 300 GSM paper. Copyright © Nicholas Shea. (From an illustration of a medieval ‘good death’. A man in bed is struck by the figure of death, while a monk at his side urges him to ‘pray Christ thy soule to save’, and Christ promises ‘mercie thou shall have’. The Carthusian Miscellany, England (Yorkshire or Lincolnshire), 1460-1500: Add MS 37049, f. 38v. British Museum).

(i) Human Monstrosities. Volume IV, pp. 109-202. Barton Cooke Hirst M.D., and George A. Piersol M.D. 1893.