Sunday, June 25, 2017

Arthur Conan Doyle’s witch Helen Penclosa: Part II

The Parasite, a short novel about hypnotism by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, contains much material of interest. Part I introduced the main characters and outlined the plot; Part II will give some more details of the effects that Helen Penclosa’s occult practices have on her victims.

Conan Doyle tells us in this chilling little story how it looks and feels to be controlled by hypnotism, suggestion and even possession by this evil witch and energy vampire.

Under the influence: Agatha Marden
As a demonstration of her power, and proof that she can make people do things that they would never do of their own free will, Helen Penclosa hypnotises Austin Gilroy's young fiancée Agatha, ordering her break off the engagement.

Agatha visits Gilroy and speaks her piece as commanded.
She is not her normal self in any way. She looks pale and constrained. She speaks robotically; she repeats several times that their engagement is at an end.

Her voice was cold and measured; her manner strangely formal and hard. It seemed to me that she was absolutely resolved not to be drawn into any argument or explanation.

“…That Agatha, who of all women of my acquaintance has the best balanced mind, had been reduced to a condition of automatism appeared to be certain. A person at a distance had worked her as an engineer on the shore might guide a Brennan torpedo. A second soul had stepped in, as it were, had pushed her own aside, and had seized her nervous mechanism, saying: "I will work this for half an hour." 

This invasion, or possession, is why Conan Doyle calls Miss Penclosa a parasite.

Gilroy goes to visit Agatha later, and he finds her speech and behaviour are back to normal; she has no memory of coming to see him and breaking off their engagement.

So, if anyone speaks and behaves out of character like this, if they sound like answer-phones or stuck records and can’t or won’t have a proper discussion, if they deny all knowledge of something they have said or done, we should consider the possibility that that they are under the influence or even control of someone like Miss Penclosa. We should turn our attention away from them to whatever is using and speaking and acting through them.

Under the influence: Austin Gilroy
We see the effects on Agatha from the outside, as recounted by Austin Gilroy. He describes in his diary what being hypnotised and controlled by Miss Penclosa feels like on the inside.

Sensible people would avoid her after seeing what she did to Agatha; Gilroy however is immensely impressed:

My horizon of scientific possibilities has suddenly been enormously extended. I no longer wonder at Wilson's demonic energy and enthusiasm.

Instead of being warned off, he is intrigued and enthralled. He is so eager to learn more about this fascinating new subject from direct experience that he visits Miss Penclosa daily, very foolishly letting her put him into a trance each time.

In his defence, he knows that he is one of the rare people who can both experience and analyse metaphysical phenomena. He is balanced; he is both a scientist and a psychic, unlike his friend Professor Wilson who is impervious to unseen influences: 

To have the power of examining these phenomena from inside—to have an organism which will respond, and at the same time a brain which will appreciate and criticise—that is surely a unique advantage. I am quite sure that Wilson would give five years of his life to be as susceptible as I have proved myself to be.”

The first time Helen Penclosa hypnotises Austin Gilroy, he sees her eyes get larger and larger and he feels that he is falling into two lakes. Returning to consciousness is like surfacing from deep water.

After a few days, he has this to say:

 “It is possible that this course of mesmerism may be a little trying to the general constitution. Agatha says that I am thinner and darker under the eyes. I am conscious of a nervous irritability which I had not observed in myself before. The least noise, for example, makes me start, and the stupidity of a student causes me exasperation instead of amusement. Agatha wishes me to stop, but I tell her that every course of study is trying, and that one can never attain a result without paying some price for it.  When she sees the sensation which my forthcoming paper on "The Relation between Mind and Matter" may make, she will understand that it is worth a little nervous wear and tear. I should not be surprised if I got my F. R. S. over it.

He should have listened to Agatha. We should beware of and avoid anything or anyone who makes us feel and deteriorate like this. 

Scientific curiosity and the hope of becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society keep him going, until he has the horrible realisation that Helen Penclosa has conceived a passion for him.

He decides to postpone his visits for a few days until Professor Wilson returns from a journey, so as to avoid being alone with her. Unfortunately, it is too late for such decisions:

Well, well, what a thing of straw I am! I am coming to know myself better of late, and the more I know the lower I fall in my own estimation. Surely I was not always so weak as this. At four o'clock I should have smiled had any one told me that I should go to Miss Penclosa's to-night, and yet, at eight, I was at Wilson's door as usual. I don't know how it occurred. The influence of habit, I suppose. Perhaps there is a mesmeric craze as there is an opium craze, and I am a victim to it. I only know that as I worked in my study I became more and more uneasy. I fidgeted. I worried. I could not concentrate my mind upon the papers in front of me. And then, at last, almost before I knew what I was doing, I seized my hat and hurried round to keep my usual appointment.

Gilroy is in too deep to escape easily. He is right about the withdrawal symptoms. Scientific curiosity and enthusiasm for new discoveries are being replaced by something else. Instead of being in it for the good feelings, he is trapped and forced to return by wanting to escape or lessen the bad feelings.

He is soon in an even worse state:

Again, tonight, I awoke from the mesmeric trance to find my hand in hers, and to suffer that odious feeling which urges me to throw away my honour, my career, everything, for the sake of this creature who, as I can plainly see when I am away from her influence, possesses no single charm upon earth. But when I am near her, I do not feel this. She rouses something in me, something evil, something I had rather not think of. She paralyzes my better nature, too, at the moment when she stimulates my worse. Decidedly it is not good for me to be near her.”

Helen Penclosa speaks about Agatha, who sounds ideal for Gilroy, in a disparaging way and gets him to agree that Agatha is conventional. She goes too far here:

Weak as I have proved myself to be, I am still strong enough to bring this sort of thing to an end. It shall not happen again. I have sense enough to fly when I cannot fight. From this Sunday night onward I shall never sit with Miss Penclosa again. Never! Let the experiments go, let the research come to an end; anything is better than facing this monstrous temptation which drags me so low.

When I first read this, I said to myself, “I bet he does go back for more.”

Throughout the next day, he feels restless and uneasy. He looks pale and haggard. He cannot settle to anything, and eventually rushes over to the Wilson’s house. At least there is no hypnotism that evening.

Gilroy knows that he has been a blind fool; he also knows that something much more terrible than weakness or habit is at work. He finally understands the dreadful predicament that he is in:

I am for the moment at the beck and call of this creature with the crutch. I must come when she wills it. I must do as she wills. Worst of all, I must feel as she wills. I loathe her and fear her, yet, while I am under the spell, she can doubtless make me love her.

I am in a horrible position, but, above all, I must not lose my head. I must pit my intellect against her powers. After all, I am no silly puppet, to dance at the end of a string. I have energy, brains, courage. For all her devil's tricks I may beat her yet. May! I MUST, or what is to become of me?

What indeed. We shall see.

There is a lot more material of interest in the story and many more comments to be made.