Meeting the Devil- A Book of Memoir

The Gerts have long been devoted readers of The London Review of Books (known as the LRB to the cognoscenti). We have passed our copies on to friends and family and have surely accounted for the rise in subscriptions from our harsh brown land. The journal is issued fortnightly, is closely printed, and amounts to around forty-one pages. They no longer have the amusing lonely heart entries in the back pages that used to divert us in the past, but there is always something humourous, infuriating or enlightening to read.

In these dark times of Covid 19 the LRB has not forgotten its readers. Every week for the last few months they have offered a free to all for twenty-four hours reprint from past issues under the head Diverted Traffic. This contains some of the outstanding articles and memoir from the past forty years. Today’s is entitled, Diverted Traffic 15, Jeremy Harding on Paris under water, and begins,

When Apollinaire stepped out of his apartment in the 16th arrondissement and walked a block, he was charmed by the fen-like view down the rue Felicien-David. His piece appeared a day or so later in L’Intransigeant, by which time people were comparing the streets of the city, dotted with dinghies and skiffs, to the waterways of Venice…

Events we never knew about or had quite forgotten, opinions that outrage from the best writers of our day, among them Hilary Mantel, Alan Bennett, Andrew O’Hagan, Anne Enright, Julian Barnes, Frank Kermode are all to be found here. Some of our favourites we have never forgotten, Terry Castle’s account of Susan Sontag in the hilarious Desperately Seeking Susan, and the touching story by Jenny Diski entitled Scatter my Ashes, all the more poignant now that she has died in 2016.

I have to confess, though, that I do have a favourite, and it was reading this in the free repeats that led me to purchase the whole book (and very well worth it is.) If, like me, you are not totally au fait with the world of economics, you won’t have heard of Wynne Godley, but let me tell you he was a senior economist in the British Treasury where he worked on macroeconomic policies. He moved to Cambridge where he was a Fellow of King’s College and headed the Department of Applied Economics. he finished his career at The Levy Institute of Bard College in New York and authored several rather pessimistic books about economics, which have proven to be quite accurate predictions.

But where is Gert going with this, and what do I care for economics I hear you say. Ah, but Wynne Godley had another aspect to him. He was the son of Lord Kilbracken, an alcoholic peer and was sent away to the horrors of Rugby School when he was seven. He also trained to be a professional oboeist and for a while was Principal Oboe in the Welsh Symphony until nerves got the better of him.

In spite of a successful career Godley was an unhappy man. He felt he was living with an artificial self and was deeply distressed. He thought psychoanalysis might help. A friend recommended D.W.Winnicott who at that time was pre-eminent among British psychoanalysts. Winnicott was known for his ideas about the true and false self but possibly his most useful concept was that of the ‘good enough mother.’

On Godley’s first interview with Winnicott he experienced him thus

Winnicott…reminded me of a very frail Spencer Tracy. His sentences were not always coherent but I experienced them as direct communication to an incredibly primitive part of myself.

Winnicott referred Godley to another analyst, Masud Khan. Even from the first interview he had worries about confidentiality when the analyst broke into his stream of reminisce to ask ‘Haven’t you got some connection with Epstein?’  ( Godley was married to Epstein’s daughter.)

It only got worse from here. Khan explained he was getting married to the Russian dancer Svetlana Beriosova. He drove his patient home, and as he was getting out of the car asked, ‘you never think of killing yourself ?’

The analysis became a kind of duel between them; Khan broke all the boundaries, dropping in on Godley for visits, wanting to dine together with their wives, he gave him gifts. Here is a typical incident,

One evening I found myself alone with Khan and Beriosova in their flat. Both of them were drunk. They left the room separately so that I was alone for some minutes. I heard a faint moan which was repeated more loudly, the moan turned into my own name…Going into the hall I saw Khan, lying full length and motionless on the ground. In agony he whispered, ‘My wife has kicked me in the balls.’

The level to which Khan intruded into Godley’s life was appalling. In the end Godley had to get Winnicott to call him off.

Masud Khan went on to marry another ballerina, to have affairs with patients, to break every rule of confidentiality. Eventually he was struck off the psychoanalytic register, but not for another twenty years.

There is a lot more detail in Godley’s account of their destructive encounter. Get the book to find out. Fascinating.

8 thoughts on “Meeting the Devil- A Book of Memoir

  1. The book seems to have enough other good bits to keep the Gerts provided with material for a dozen columns. When I looked it up, the first thing that appeared was this review, https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/reviews/review-meeting-the-devil-a-book-of-memoir-from-the-london-review-of-books-8959298.html, describing a “curious gallimaufry of essays from the London Review of Books . . .” It sounds as if Wynne Godley is in good company (and from your comments about him, Gert, he sounds like a fascinating person). Also, it’s too bad “nerves got the better of him,” because a good oboeist is a rare being. Thanks again for an excellent diversion from my work . . .

    1. The Independent is not as enthusiastic as I was, but the book is called Meeting the Devil. I really liked the insights into different lives. For example Allon White, an academic who died quite young from leukaemia, gives a wonderful insight into his father’s garage and car repair business in the country. It’s not all William Empson.

  2. One could say – strange bed fellows if Godley was married to Epstein’s daughter. I wonder what Godley would have thought of MMT?
    Leslie

    1. Godley had therapy every day for seven years with Khan. To read a discussion of this case and the impact Godley’s memoir had when it was published in 2001 go to bostonreview.net and read Robert S Boynton’s discussion entitled The Return of the Repressed.

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