Monday 17 July 2017

No Good Could Come of It

Her father [a Viennese ophthalmologist] was moderately successful in his profession, which was something of an irony, as his own eyes were weak and occasionally watery, which gave him a melancholy appearance. This ocular melancholy might even have masked something more profound, as if genuine grief were manifesting itself in this singularly appropriate symbol. Vienna was alive with metaphors: no explanation was too far-fetched.
A Family Romance, ch. 2

Was there ever a more Freudian Brookner than A Family Romance? There's its title, of course (though its applicability to the events of the novel isn't entirely obvious*), and there's Jane's maternal grandmother's Viennese background. I remembered from earlier readings that Toni Ferber ended up, like Freud, in Maresfield Gardens, London, but I had forgotten her journey had started in none other than the Berggasse in Vienna, and that the consulting-room of Dr Meyer, the ophthalmologist, was, like Freud's, just across the landing from his apartment.

Jane's English father had understandable doubts:
He thought the ambience perfervid, haunted by the ghost of Freud and other Viennese associations. Even the conjunction of the Berggasse and Maresfield Gardens was, he thought, too apt, too prompt, too symbolic to be a mere accident: no good could come of it.
(For more on Brookner and Freud, see comments in her several interviews, especially the 2009 Telegraph interview.)

*Jane 'was not encouraged to formulate any family romance, although I was to do this later in the books I wrote for children' (ch. 2). Thus, curiously negatively, the (British only) title refers to something that the novel rejects. But in steering wide of a too closely Freudian form of fiction, Brookner perhaps avoids a crime identified by Virginia Woolf: that in becoming 'cases' characters cease to be individuals ('Freudian Fiction', 1920 essay collected in A Woman's Essays).

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