We find ourselves outside on a balustrade, by a wall which overlooks the city below. Georgina is sitting alone in her chair with only her doll for company as we hear Fettes’ voice in the background telling Mrs Marsh of MacFarlane’s decision to take on the operation. Georgina’s isolation is reminiscent of Amy’s in Curse of the Cat People, and as in that film, there is a sense of the danger of retreating too fully into one’s own world; the chair becomes symbolic of a withdrawal from company and friendship as much as an indicator of physical immobility. We will find Gray, confined by economic contingency to his own, larger cab, in similar lonely isolation later. Fettes emphasises the ‘great pain and shock’ which will be attendant upon the operation, but encourages Mrs Marsh in her doubts with a paean of praise for MacFarlane (‘I think he’s the greatest man in medicine’) and a striking affirmation of his continuing advocacy of the belief in divine agency within the world with which he was brought up (‘God would not have given him such gifts if they were not meant for Georgina’s cure’). Such a view would be roundly dismissed by MacFarlane himself, of course, for whom such gifts are the result of a superior intellect, and brought forth by hard work and study.
Solitary playGeorgina meanwhile hears the sound of horse’s hooves on the cobbles below, and the sound for her is the daytime harbinger of hope rather than the dread sound of death in the night. It causes her to look up from her doll, breaking out of the closed, monastic walls of her imagination and reconnecting with the world around her. The horse creates an empathic connection between her and Gray, both locked into their own very different forms of loneliness and social isolation. Fettes lifts her up to see, indicating a by now unspoken level of intimacy which edges him towards the responsibilities of a surrogate father. It’s not the horse she was hoping for and Fettes is prompted to ask why this is so important for her. In gently suggesting that it may be because she doesn’t have any friends, he displays a degree of insight which suggests a certain fellow feeling. This is, after all, someone whom we first encounter eating his lunch alone in a graveyard. When Georgina says that she tries to get used to it, he replies ‘one shouldn’t get used to the wrong things’, as much a statement of personal resolution as a piece of advice. In emphasising to her the importance of will in the effecting of a cure, and of the necessary endurance of physical pain, Fettes is effectively administering to her soul before MacFarlane takes care of the body. He is making it clear that the operation is more of a collaborative undertaking, in which he too plays his part. After she has pledged the strength of her own desire, he declares ‘then Doctor MacFarlane will make you well’.
Displaced violence - striking Gray's headDoctor MacFarlane himself seems far from the reliably calm healer, however, as we come across him in front of his fire at home, wrapped in his dressing gown, his hair in disarray. The tableau visually rhymes with the fireside in the inn, but MacFarlane’s buttoned-up and dapper appearance in that scene is now undone. He roughly pushes a large lump of coal towards the fire with a poker, his gestures imbued with a violence which ensures that nothing comes of his efforts. There is an obvious parallel with Gray’s plunging of the knife into the loaf of bread, so that Gray’s gleeful assessment of what he would like ‘to do all over my body’ is borne out. Meg, who enters and gives a mocking yet understanding and sympathetic laugh, underlines this (and at the same time indicates her perceptive empathy) by saying ‘Gray’s head. Is that it, Toddy’. The use of the familiar diminutive name which MacFarlane has so strongly objected to coming from Gray is here used with affection rather than aggression. It is an example of the power invested in the different names attached to one person, and the way in which their use can be granted as permission for closeness or as a sign of trust, or used contemptuously to assert power.
Fey enchantmentsMeg’s use of the name Toddy also intimates a shared past between her, MacFarlane and Gray, and of a friendship cast aside and poisoned with bitterness and hate. MacFarlane looks dejected and hopeless, arousing Meg’s pity. She embraces him and tries to soothe him with soft condolences; ‘My poor, poor lad that can never be free of him’. MacFarlane shrugs off her comforts and attempts to do the same for his relationship with Gray, reducing it to a material level of economic exchange, divested of any emotional or moral connections with the past. ‘He’s only a man from whom I buy what I need when I need it. The rest is forgotten’. Meg firmly rejects this repudiation of Gray, recognising it for the evasion it is. Such a determinedly conscious attempt to disconnect himself from the past puts her own position in doubt. MacFarlane tells her ‘you’re a fey creature, Meg, with mad ideas. And you have a wildness that holds me to you, my lass’. By reducing her to a figure of magic, much as he has reduced Gray to a depersonalised element of his business transactions, he avoids the need to answer her concerns. His attraction to her is cast as an enchantment, with the underlying implication that this is the only way she could have laid any claim over him. But spells of enchantment wear off, and Meg’s pointed reply shows an acute awareness of this possibility. ‘No great lady can ever take my place?’ she prompts him. The mysterious enchantments associated with the magic and romance of the Highlands are all the glamour which she has to counter her lack of social status and maintain her position in MacFarlane’s domestic hierarchy. For now, he accepts her embrace.
Despondence in unguarded solitudeA knock at the door causes them to part with reflexive alacrity, however, a clear indication of the fragility of their attachment in the face of the requirements of social propriety which MacFarlane is keen to uphold. Meg exits and Fettes enters, the elements of the domestic order kept separate. MacFarlane attempts a bit of laddish banter about how much they drank the previous night, reducing the evident import of what happened to an offhand reference to the ‘bad company’ which they kept. When Fettes mentions the operation, he shows no inclination to follow up on his promise, however. Without the presence of Gray to goad him on, he sinks into a disinterested lassitude once more. He claims the need to study ‘the spinal column and its intricacies’ before embarking on such a delicate operation. Since the last specimen has been used up, this is ‘entirely out of the question’. He must by now be aware of Fettes’ personal investment in the case, so he is effectively driving him out to find a new specimen. He is setting up a moral dilemma for him as a further stage in his education. By indirectly guiding him towards Gray, he is drawing him further into his world, creating him in his own image. This is the process of corruption which Meg feared. Fettes is being placed as an intermediary between MacFarlane and Gray, who the doctor can thereby deal with at a distance.
Ballads by gaslightThe next scene follows on in causative fashion as we find Fettes in a back alley at night. The sound of the ballad singer’s voice alerts us to the fact that we are in the world of the streets of the old town, the poor district. As ever, she acts as an intersticial character, serving as a recurrent symbolic figure bridging scenes in the customary Lewton fashion. But this positioning on the margins of the film is also an indication of her own position, a woman who has fallen between the cracks of history and society and who gradually blends into the background until she becomes effectively invisible. Fettes passes her standing beneath a gas lamp by the castle wall. The flickering, inconstant light and dark, damp stone are classic elements of the Victorian gaslight romance or tale of terror, more familiarly encountered in the world of Sherlock Holmes or in the streets of Whitechapel, through the dim and narrow passages of which the caped and top-hatted form of Jack the Ripper sweeps. Jack the Ripper, as Christopher Frayling outlines in his TV series and book Nightmare:The Birth of Horror, is a direct descendent in his mythologised form of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde. The latter in turn were recast in their stage and film guises through the influence of the Ripper murders and their sensationalised reporting. Brian Clemens entertaining recasting of the Jekyll and Hyde story for Hammer, the self-explanatorily titled Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde, directly combines the two by including Burke and Hare, who’ve evidently also made their way down south, as incidental characters. The labyrinth of Edinburgh old town is overlaid onto the map of Whitechapel.
Transitory signsFettes asks the singer if she knows where to find Gray, and she shakes her head without breaking the flow of her unceasing verse. She is an outsider here, without local street knowledge; a reminder of other times, other places, a recent past which is rapidly receding into the ghost existence of song and story. They smile at each other, she with the politeness of the performer before her audience, he with awkward sympathy and recognition (and with the drop of a coin). It is a small moment of connection, nonetheless. The orchestrated score fades in to shadow her song as Fettes continues to search through the night streets. He comes across a sign which reads, in ephemeral chalk upon a board, ‘John Gray, Cabman’. Gray has been given a first name, and therefore some of his suggestive glamour, the sense that he is an archetypal being (or monster) rather than an individual, is dulled. He is not the devil which Meg cast him as after all. He is just a man with an ordinary Christian name and therefore an existence beyond the trade which has given him his name up until now.
Stableyard gothicFettes goes through the entrance and finds the cab safely stowed in a bay of a stable. There is a ladder in the foreground, covered with spider’s webs, which leads into darkness above and which reminds us of the upstairs/downstairs divide in MacFarlane’s house. Here, the divide is between man and animal, and they both live on the same level. The spider’s web suggests a domestic gothic atmosphere, with the stable giving a hint of the rural finding a hold in the cold stone heart of the city. The gothic staple of household neglect is here more a sign of poverty and lack of time than the ennui in the face of eternity of the living dead. We get our ‘bus’ moment of mechanical shock when the horse suddenly raises its head and snickers in Fettes earhole. This is an appropriate period variant on the original shock moment of misdirection in Cat People, with its suddenly arriving bus. Here, the bus is a cab (or at least the horse which pulls it). Fettes knocks on the inner door which marks the divide between workspace (or storage space) and living quarters. A voice calls ‘come in’ in a familiar and welcoming tone, which suggests that Gray is used to such night-time intrusions.
Welcome to my humble homeGray lives in a very humble single room dwelling, which serves as living, cooking, dining and sleeping quarters combined. He holds a small skillet over a tiny fire set within bare brick walls. This comfortless hearth is in stark contrast to the warm centrepieces which are the focal points of the front rooms of MacFarlane’s house and the inn. These provide a sense of refuge from the outer cold and darkness. Here, they seem only barely and through sustained effort to be kept at bay. For the first time we see Gray without his hat and coat, and he appears much diminished, His hair is pasted in a side parting across his forehead. An inexpertly self-administered attempt at grooming, it serves as a contrast to the state of disarray in which we left MacFarlane. It embodies his attempt to make the best of what he has got, also reflected in the careful and prideful order maintained in his room. Gray is very solicitous of ‘the young doctor’, granting him a title which he has yet to earn, whilst possibly also hinting at his status as MacFarlane’s protégé. After declaring himself to be honoured he uncovers ‘the most comfortable chair’ for him to sit at, a luxury which he seems to deny himself. This humility and consideration within his own home extends to a new tact in the use of names and titles. Fettes suddenly becomes ‘sir’ and Toddy gains the respectful ‘Doctor MacFarlane’ he would wish for. At home, Gray has put aside his social mask and the performance which he uses in conducting business at the same time as he has hung his protective carapace of cape, scarf and hat at the door. The disparity between this house and the one in which Fettes is becoming accustomed to living is evident to both. The Spartan nature of his room with its functional furnishings makes Gray aware of his lowly position, and his attempt to observe the niceties of welcoming a guest asserts a defiant pride in his home and the meagre comforts he is able to offer. This contrasts with the indifference bordering on hostility with which MacFarlane greets unwelcome callers, despite the far greater means at his disposal.
Fettes is oblivious to these efforts on Gray’s part, and comes straight to the point, to the request for the provision of a further specimen. He is bringing business into Gray’s house despite the obvious divide between the worlds of work and domesticity. Gray tries to point out the prevailing circumstances surrounding the outrage at Robbie’s death which makes the prospect of further disinterments a dangerous proposition. ‘People are so concerned about dogs’, he muses. More so than about human beings, the unspoken clause of the sentence implies. Gray has a cat as a companion, which perhaps explains his indifference to dogs and his casual despatch of Robbie, which displays a rather extreme form of the traditional dog/cat lovers divide. The betrayal of Gray’s loyalties which are later revealed would certainly leave him disdainful of a dog’s fidelity and the sentimentality which attaches itself to it. A cat’s more calculating affections suits him better. It’s presence is also another touch which suggests an attempt to create a homely environment. It further demonstrates his liking for animals, an uncomplicated relationship of mutual needs met which reflects a misanthropic distrust of human contact. Fettes has no time for Gray’s worries over exposing himself to the mob and rudely exclaims ‘how soon, man’, his commanding tone and impersonal form of address making it clear that he regards Gray as no more than a functionary, a servant who doesn’t deserve the effort of social pleasantry. We are reminded of the contemptuous way in which MacFarlane treats Joseph. The propitiatory deference with which Gray has established a carefully modulated social context in which Fettes can place whatever request or proposition he has come with is summarily brushed aside. Gray won’t commit, being far more aware of the sensitivities his previous ‘job’ has aroused and the danger he will expose himself to, offering a terse ‘I’ll do the best I can’. ‘After all’, he adds, I am financially interested’, reducing the exchange to the base level at which Fettes intends to conduct it. This financial interest, for which he is prepared to undertake work which makes him hateful in the eyes of all, even those for whom it is invaluable and who pay him to do it, must be acute, with ends evidently only just being met.
Standing to leave - an assertive departureAs Fettes gets up, re-establishing the standing/seated assertion of dominance through superior elevation and putting an end to Gray’s attempts to set a diplomatic context for their meeting, the latter discards any attempt at social grace or nuance and responds in kind, getting in his last word. ‘You may tell Toddy I’ll do what I can, when I can’, he says, reverting to the barbed use of the diminutive. He now treats Fettes as the intermediary which he is, adding ‘as he knows I will’, to emphasise that he is dealing with MacFarlane and not his go-between. As if suspecting that this change in mode of address may not be obvious enough for one who doesn’t regard him highly enough to listen out for such subtleties, he leaves him with a remark of such openly contemptuous disregard that he can’t but fail to absorb it. ‘He must wait and see, like the children do’. Knowing that he is the child alluded to, Fettes slams down his cup and strides out in a childish huff, making Gray’s point for him. Hospitality has been rejected utterly.
Hospitality rejectedAlone, Gray’s protective smirk of a smile transmutes into a grimace, from which it is always only a muscular spasm away. All sense of triumph is gone, as it has been made evident to him that he inspires the same hatred and repugnance in Fettes as he does in MacFarlane. As he gets wearily up and goes to the door, we hear the song of the balladeer once more, the voice of the street which lies only a short, faltering step away for Gray. This proximity is visually suggested by the POV shot which looks out over his shoulder to the street beyond. From his perspective, we see Fettes pull up his collar against the cold and walk off one way, whilst the balladeer passes the other. One to return home to the comfort of home and bed, the other to continue her endless circling of the streets. The words of the song state ‘your heart will break in two, should he ne’er come again’. Gray feels MacFarlane’s rejection, which he reads into the attitude of contempt which he has evidently passed on to Fettes. The two are locked into a circling orbit of mutual need, which extends beyond the economic, although Gray needs MacFarlane’s business on this level too. The camera focuses on Gray’s face, grimly calculating, as the singer passes. It is the look of a predator sizing up its prey. As she sings ‘will ye no come back again’, he closes the door decisively. The line from the ballad will take on a darkly ironic twist of meaning, becoming an invocation of her fate, her death, rather than a lament for a lost sweetheart. The proximity of love and death, of l’amour and la mort, which Lewton has already dwelt upon in Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, The Seventh Victim and Isle of the Dead, draws in once more.
Prospect of the streetsGray goes into the stable to talk to his horse. We are reminded of Fettes’ words to Georgina, prompted by eagerness to see the passing horse which might greet her, about her lack of real friends. He doesn’t know that is Gray’s horse which she is looking out for, nor that it was Gray who brought her and Mrs Marsh to Doctor MacFarlane’s door, and thereby into his life. The horse forms a connection between Gray and Georgina, a kind of companionship of solitude. Gray’s remarks about waiting ‘like the children do’ and his prodding of MacFarlane into performing the operation may be an unconscious admission of a sense of fellow feeling. His kindness to animals and children, Robbie notwithstanding, also connects him with Fettes, although he has thus far had more of a direct effect on the little girl and her prospects for being cured. MacFarlane, of course, cares for neither animals nor children. ‘There’s bad news, boy’, he apologetically tells the horse. ‘We have to go out again’. This is not something he relishes doing. He is not a monster in that sense. It is the harsh reality of economic hardship which drives him to such a bitter end.
Crossing the thresholdThe ballad singer walks below a stone archway into consuming darkness, trailing her song in her wake. The slow and steady echo of horse’s hooves on cobbles accompanies Gray’s cab into the darkness after her. Death is in no hurry. The two signature sounds of the film meet, their sources invisible. The cessation of one is the precursor to the snuffing out of the other, the song cut off abruptly mid-verse, leaving a heavy silence behind. The darkness beneath the arch has become a gateway to the beyond, a threshold through which both the singer and Gray have passed. If Gray has an archetypal aspect, it is less the devil than an overworked, proletarian Death, reluctantly fulfilling his duties with the weariness of a labourer dragging himself to work in the morning. The murder of the ballad singer is more totemistic trampling on the tartan, the silencing of the voice of tradition and romance. The fact that we’ve seen him crossing paths with her after he leaves Gray’s home underlines Fettes culpability for the singer’s death. She has remained anonymous, unnamed, her identity granted only through her songs, which give melancholy voice to her exile and displacement through their tales of loss and parting. She is one of the socially marginal and vulnerable, invisible to the likes of MacFarlane who pass her by, who are the natural and nearby targets for deperate men like Gray, one step away from their destitute state, as they were for Burke and Hare before him.
From the darkness beyond the archway we dissolve to Fettes studying with a pen in hand. He works by the light of two candles, as opposed to the single candle with which Gray lit his room. This is another dissolve which creates a causative link with the scene which preceded it; Murder connected with study and the furtherance of knowledge. It is an echo of the dissolve from Gray’s killing of the dog and disinterment of its master to Doctor MacFarlane studying and measuring the bone. Fettes smiles at the sound of hooves on cobbles and immediately rises to meet the delivery which he has ordered. The immediate response of Gray to his visit suggests to him that his commanding manner has borne fruit, and that he is gaining in authority. He has exercised his power and asserted his position in the hierarchy, moving a few steps upward on the stairs which lead to the upper level, to the status that he will enjoy as a doctor. He actively and willingly helps Gray in carrying in the body and laying it on the table. He is addressed deferentially as Master Fettes by Gray, affirming him in his belief that he has achieved mastery over the cabman. Gray is companionable in the shared physical labour of laying out the corpse, and they both take pleasure in their common purpose. ‘Sooner than we thought’, Gray says of the delivery. ‘A stroke of luck, you might say’, at which they both smile in friendly agreement. This is the satisfied exchange of mutually beneficial business satisfactorily carried out.
Self-defensive reactionBut then the face of the singer is uncovered, although it is hidden from our view. Fettes smile instantly disappears, followed by Gray’s as he is subjected to interrogation. Robert Louis Stevenson’s lines are once more directly lifted from the source story to provide Fettes’ shocked anger at his recognition of the body. ‘I know her, I tell you! She was alive and hearty only this evening. It’s impossible she can be dead’. Stevenson himself may have been influenced by the tales attached to the Burke and Hare case, including the suggestion that one or more of the victims, being prostitutes, were intimately familiar to some of the students. Another of their victims, a simple-minded children’s entertainer known as ‘Daft Jamie’, was a well known local figure, which led to Dr Knox swiftly starting the dissection with his face. Gray responds to Fettes’ accusatory questioning with threatening earnestness. ‘You are entirely mistaken’, he tells him, and demands that he give him his fee and make the proper entry in the books. When Fettes does so, Gray’s smile and mastery of the situation returns. The handing over of the cash is like a handshake which concludes a deal, a decision to accept the transaction. Fettes feeling of ascendancy has been quickly overturned. He has now been safely incorporated into the murderous transaction, becoming a new version of the young MacFarlane, with the Doctor himself as his Knox and Gray as a singular embodiment of Burke and Hare. Gray bids him goodnight and calls him Doctor Fettes, with an emphasis on the title. His promotion from Master to Doctor marks a further stage in his corruption, of his loss of innocence. Gray has conferred his graduation upon him. The scene fades once more upon Fettes’ face as he looks at the body of the street balladeer, the echo of her song heard in the score as the sound of hooves on cobblestones recedes into the distance. Death has carried out his orders and the price has been paid.
Accepting the value of murderThe ghost of the balladeer’s mournful song morphs into the whistling of a merry tune as the next scene fades in. Life and death are juxtaposed once more. Doctor MacFarlane descends from the world above to be immediately confronted by Fettes with the death of the street singer. He refers to her as ‘a wild lassie from the Highlands’, a description which echoes MacFarlane’s romanticised idea of Meg, and suggests a parallel fate for her had she not found a place in the Doctor’s heart and his household. MacFarlane’s ‘oh, this girl’ marks an offhand and disinterested recognition, with no trace of sorrow at the premature end of a life still in its youth. He loses his air of insouciance and becomes alert when Fettes tells him, the horror of disbelief still in this voice, that she was murdered and that he intends to report it, thus reneging on the deal implicitly concluded with Gray the previous night. When he declares ‘it’s like Burke and Hare all over again’, MacFarlane touches his arm and gently says his name with an imploring air. This doubling of intimate gestures increases the power with which he had previously drawn Fettes into the conspiratorial world of professional secrets, of the acceptance of body snatching as a necessary means to a noble end. His alternative rationalisations of the singer’s death are rejected, but he advises, with the worldly pragmatism of experience, that ‘believe it or not, it’s best that you pretend you do’. He views idealism and truth as a luxury and an impediment to progress. Once more we hear a trace of the singer’s song in the background like an aural haunting. MacFarlane spells out what Gray has made sure, in his fastidious insistence on doing things by the book, has been accounted for. ‘You ordered this subject. Received it here and payed for it. That makes you a party to murder’. Fettes words at the inn are then cast back at him, as MacFarlane outlines their course of action. ‘We should do what we always do. Dissection’. He tells Fettes that he will take the spine, ‘you know why’. A ghost of a smile returns to Fettes’ countenance. The relative value of lives has been weighed up on the scales of his unconscious, and the murder victim found to possess sufficient compensatory value. An intensification of the acceptable extremity of means towards a desired end has been incorporated into his moral universe. He has passed the next stage of his educational progress.
Surgery as spectator sportThe operation follows on in causative fashion, the spine having been put to its educative uses, one life taken to heal another. MacFarlane is the star surgeon, performing for a rapt circle of intently observing students. He ends with a flourish and declares ‘the repair is effected’, as if he has just mended a broken chair. The body is treated as inert matter, and nature is left to ‘heal what is no longer a defect, merely a wound’. The patient is handed on to Fettes’ care, to deal with the more ill-defined psychological processes of recovery in the aftermath of physical shock following years of paralysis. The operation triumphantly concluded, we find MacFarlane later leafing pensively through a book. Joseph interrupts him and is instantly chided for ‘everlastingly creeping about’. He is entirely unaware that such ‘creeping’ has included his eavesdropping on the exchange over the singer’s body.
Leave them laughingGray is at the door, and after a futile effort at barring him entry, he admits defeat, saving face before Joseph by affecting indifference, shrugging ‘oh well. It seems that I shall have the pleasure of speaking to Mr Gray myself’. Gray swaggers in, his mask-like smile in place, poised for offense or defence, uncertain for the moment of which approach to take. This is a visit to feel out what direction his relationship with MacFarlane will take next. The doctor tells him that their business is at an end; ‘We’ve decided to do more lecturing and less dissection’. The smile fades from Gray’s face as he calculates where this leaves him. He refuses to be brushed off in such a perfunctory manner, and seeks to reassert his hold over the doctor, promising to continue to ‘stop by once in a while to see you and Meg. For auld lang syne’. MacFarlane weakly capitulates, repeating the words ‘for auld lang syne’, emphasising that it is the power of the past which holds him in thrall. He is reduced to bitter resignation once more, a state the observance of which restores Gray to his assured and cocky composure, the grin returning to his face. He leaves with an ominous ‘and don’t think you’re getting rid of me, Toddy’, exiting on a triumphant laugh. Gray is an expert at the tactical manipulation of encounters, and always ensures that he has a memorable parting line with will linger in the memory. Any hopes that MacFarlane may have entertained about ending his relationship with Gray by terminating his business with him have been exposed as being completely hollow.
Sarcastic saluteOutside, Joseph attempts to speak with Gray, alluding to his knowledge of the murder of the street singer. He is too abject to use this directly against MacFarlane himself, fearful that he’ll lose his position, menial and downtrodden as it may be. Their exchange is interrupted by Fettes, however, who receives a mockingly formal ‘good afternoon, Master Fettes’, and a flourished salute. Gray is back in the ascendant and leaves in high good cheer. Inside, when Fettes asks what he was laughing about, MacFarlane replies that ‘he has his own idea of a joke’. It is the gleeful humour attendant upon triumph and it indicates just what pleasure Gray takes in the assertion and exercise of his power over MacFarlane. Talking of the operation, Fettes tells him just what happiness he has brought. ‘That’s the way of it, Fettes’, MacFarlane smiles. A flicker of the idealism which may once have led him to the medical profession is momentarily revealed.
Imploring diagnostic verificationWe fade in to the next scene with a close up of Georgina’s face in profile, looking in alarm at somebody offscreen. The operation has healed the defect in her body, but she still doesn’t walk. There is more to healing than mechanical repair. MacFarlane is impatient and angry. Her refusal to walk is an affront to the perfection of his work. Fettes tries to suggest the need to administer to her mind, to encourage her will to recover, but MacFarlane merely snaps back ‘confound it, the child’s a cripple. Of course she wants to walk’. The physician lays claim to a godlike mastery of the world of matter whilst neglecting its animating spirit, refusing to administer to the psychosomatic element of illness and disease. The subtleties of psychology are not for MacFarlane, and adopts a religiose, almost Christlike air of commandment as he thunders ‘child, I say to you, get up out of that chair and walk’. This having failed, he gets down on his knees and implores, as if begging her to recognise the success of his fine surgical work, the veracity of his diagnosis. When she continues to shrink fearfully from him, he makes a definitive statement of failure. ‘All my surgery is no good’, because there is ‘something I can’t define, can’t diagnose’. If it is undefinable, it is therefore beyond his comprehension. Georgina is a challenge to his whole ethos, to his certainty and assurance in an empirically constructed model of the human mechanism. ‘I can do nothing for her’, he states with fatalistic finality. He slouches off to Hobbs’, a place in which to lose oneself in defeat as well as celebration. He shows no resilience in confronting setbacks, which his medical worldview is too rigid to incorporate. We gain a sense of which he has opted to focus on teaching rather than put his knowledge to direct practical use. He has no fortitude, and his imaginative insight into the workings of humanity doesn’t extend beyond diagrammatic schema of the anatomy chart. He is a man divided, lacking a complementary half which will make him complete. He leaves for the inn to find solace and release at the bottom of a glass. A fateful and illuminating encounter beyond that with the bottle awaits him, however.
Defeatism and despondence