Madness and Glory (29): Parents

The story of Phillipe Pinel, father of modern psychiatry.

Posted May 31, 2019

 This is work of historical fiction

Chapter 29

“We have come to see my son. His name is Guillaume Lalladiere,” Manon said to Governor Jean-Baptiste Pussin, who sat hesitating. “We walked through half of Paris to get here and won’t be turned away.”

“Yes, citizenness, but this is not our ordinary time for visiting, the inmates are exercising themselves in the yard.”

“Well, he’ll want to see his mother, that’s for certain. We have important business for him. Damn well have to see him right away.”

“Oh, important business? You are here, perhaps, to help him save the Revolution, is that it?” Pussin, although not often given to sarcasm, was bothered by this mother who, now pressing hard, had not once come to see her son before.

Her husband, Bertrand Roliot, intervened. “Is he still going on, then, about a plot? We know about that, don’t believe it for a minute. Do you? Is this a place where the keepers are lunatics like the ones in the cells?”

Pussin did not respond to Roliot’s rejoinder. He knew he brought the matter up, and reminded himself that they, like all visitors, were edgy to be there. He decided to reconsider their request. Lalladiere, he knew, had gone to see his mother when he escaped. Even though she had not come before, she might, as happens sometimes with parents, still do him some good. It was not a big exception to the rules, he would let them visit in the inmate’s cell.

Denis, who was usually assigned to Lalladiere’s building, was summoned by Pussin to bring them inside. He responded quickly. As a result of earlier contacts when tracking Lalladiere, the new experience of listening in on those disturbing as well as riveting discussion sessions with Dr. Pinel, he felt embroiled more than usual with this inmate. He was curious to see Lalladiere’s mother, who kept him at her house during the second escape. The visit might not be a routine bothersome chore.

Lalladiere was lying on his mat with his back to the door when Denis brought the two visitors in.

“You gave us one terrible kind of scare,” Manon, contradicting her previous statement to Genevieve, said on entering, “when you just up and left.” Before he turned around, she added: “Never said goodbye.”

“What?” he said, reflexly responding to his mother’s voice. He twisted around and blinked in the dim light to make her out.

“It’s your Maman, Guillaume. Me and your father have come to see you.”

Lalladiere said nothing.

Maman, maman, a great madam-a, how does her garden grow? The voice in his ear sounded like that of a young child. He began then to mumble the same words under his breath.

“What is that you’re saying, Guillaume? I can’t hear you. You are glad you can see me, aren’t you?”

“Glad you can, caprice can, then we could piss,” Lalladiere said louder, moving to a sitting position.

“The devil, this is going to be a terrible visit,” she said, turning to Bertrand.

“Damn it, Manon,” Bertrand said, “let’s get down to business. The longer we wait, the worse it will be.”

“Guillaume, the wretched man who was your father is a long time dead,” she said, rapidly. “So, you must sign this paper now for your mother’s sake. And for this good Bertrand here, who is your father now.”

Lalladiere stared.

There is no father. Insane. The bane. She was becoming insane. The bane is insane. Insane.

“Did you hear me, Guillaume? Right now. You must sign the paper now,” Manon said.

“Lunatic that you are, you can still do what your mother says. Sign the paper,” Bertrand said, grabbing Lalladiere’s arm and thrusting a pen into his hand.

“One moment, citizenness Lalladiere,” Denis, who had been standing at the door, walked over toward her. “What is this paper you have? He must sign a paper? The governor, I am sure, will have to approve.”

“My name is not Lalladiere, it is Roliot, like folio,” Manon said. “And this paper here is like that, from a folio. It’s a good thing, a friend. Gives me what’s coming to me, for all my suffering with him. And, if you really want to know, it might even help for this one to be cared for here. For a very long time. A good long time, right?”

Although Denis knew little of French law and legal papers, when his own father died, he and his brothers had inherited the small estate equally with their mother. “So that’s it,” he said, “he signs his whole inheritance over to you.”

“Sure, what about it? He’ll be his whole life blathering in an asylum. You know that. We need the money.”

“This isn’t any of your business,” Bertrand said menacingly to Denis. “Keep out of it.”

Lalladiere reached up and shook off Bertrand’s grip on his arm. Bertrand turned toward Manon and pushed her forcefully down toward the mat. “Put the damn paper in his hands,” he said, “we’ll make him sign.”

She lost her balance, her body tilting forward. Lalladiere jerked his hand to her arm to steady her, and then for a moment left it there, protectively.

She immediately recoiled, pushing his hand away. “Don’t think you can get around me because your father’s passed,” she said with an agitated sneer. “You have to sign the paper.”

Denis wondered what was wrong with this woman, the strange things she said. The man was pretty much a roughneck, but he better watch out who he orders around.

Manon stood near Lalladiere, glaring and at that moment completely silent. But, in his ears, Lalladiere heard her shouting at him, in a younger sounding voice:

Remember, Maman’s always right. Always do what Maman says. Maman’s right.

He reached to take the paper. As Manon thrust it toward him, Denis moved between them, pulling the paper out of her hand and addressing Lalladiere: “No, you do not sign this.” Planting himself where he was, he took the time, while Manon and Bertrand watched, to fold the paper carefully. Then, he barked at them angrily, “I told you, this or any other paper must be seen by the governor. An insane man cannot sign papers on his own.”

“All right, all right,” Bertrand said, glaring viciously at Denis. “That’s the way we’ll do it. We’ll have him declared an idiot, Manon. Incompetent, totally blasted, that’s even better. The law will have to give every bit of the money to us.”

“Insane? Idiot? No, none of that. I know what’s wrong with him.” She turned to look Denis fully in the face. “Before he came here, this place only for the men, he couldn’t keep that little cock of his inside his pants. That’s the way it was, right? Every girl he saw, he tried to jump on her, isn’t that so? I know about it all. And the only reason you talk to him now like he’s a person who thinks even, or listens, maybe, is because he’s been kept here with all the men. Only men. That’s the only way to keep him from being the savage that he is.”

Denis, repelled, did not respond. He declared only that the visit was finished and he would carry the paper to the governor. Looking at Bertrand angrily, his strong frame tensed and poised for any action, there was little chance the man would challenge him. Neither he, nor Manon, did. As the three of them walked back down the corridors of the asylum, Denis sifted over in his mind what had just happened. Gazing searchingly at Manon and Bertrand beside him, he wondered whether both were simply vicious or maybe one or the other was insane. “These people are demons,” he said to himself. The word, ‘demons’, stuck in his mind. The day before, he remembered, the doctor commented in the hallway that Lalladiere wouldn’t talk at all after he was asked about his mother. “Is she the devil?” he wondered. “The possession? Could lunatics actually be possessed by people?”

Lalladiere, when he met with Dr. Pinel later that day in his office, would not respond to questions about the visit. Nor would he go back over any events they talked about previously. Pinel was patient, mostly quietly attending through the periods of silence. These were long because the voices, although less strong and persistent each time he was in the doctor’s presence, still warned Lalladiere against trusting this supposedly caring man.

Sensing Lalladiere’s fear, Pinel broke the silence from time to time to comment on what he guessed were Lalladiere’s feelings, or passions as he called them:

“Remorse, you must feel great remorse, about that betrayal – whatever it happened to be – of Minister Necker.”

A long pause.

“You spend many dreary days, and countless nights, reproaching yourself painfully.”

Another long pause.

“Such ideas may have made you run away from the asylum, and the people who were helping you.”

With each comment, Pinel observed carefully, paying close attention to Lalladiere’s face. Whenever he saw a flicker of change or interest there, he elaborated details of the effects of each passion together with an admonition: Do not dwell on remorse, fear, or self-reproach, suppress these, push them away.

Toward the end of the session, Pinel decided to return to the overhearing of the plot. Lalladiere, he guessed, must feel very important because of possessing such a secret. He must think himself to be a special person ordained to save the life of the head of state and save the country. The conspiracy, if there was one, was a significant matter. If determined to be true, something had to be done. But Lalladiere should not blow himself up about his overhearing it. Pride must be curtailed.

Denis, again sitting by, smiled to himself. The doctor had not just taken on Lalladiere’s story, he was giving the man moral guidance. There was no reason that he, or anyone else, had to report Dr. Pinel for treason. He had told some of the other attendants about the discussions of a plot and they advised him to keep out of it. One of them, Ajacis, said he thought the doctor could be dangerous and that Lalladiere needed to be gagged. Denis hated being involved in such topsy-turvy stuff, but more than that, he found what the doctor had been doing with Lalladiere to be a pick up. No one he had seen, even the governor, had taken such sustained interest in the life or talk of a lunatic.

Pinel ended the session and, sitting alone, he turned to writing his weekly summary. No change, he noted, in Lalladiere’s delusions of grandeur or persecution, hearing voices, propensity to incoherence with letter and word repetition. Lacking, for several weeks, were episodes of katatonus. The diagnosis he put down was still, according to his classification, mania with delirium. He stopped writing. Lalladiere, he mused, was obsessed with a fixed idea – a conspiracy that eliminated the revolutionary leader Georges-Jacques Danton, and after that, assisted by deception and defamation, got the idealistic, incorruptible Maximilien Robespierre to bring himself down. A clever, diabolical plot, but who could tell whether it was true or not? One of the alleged conspirators, Tallien, had supervised the massacres of priests, criminals, and the mentally disordered at the asylum. Both Tallien and the other person Lalladiere specified, Barras, had denounced his beloved colleague Condorcet – the ardent patriot, framer of the spirit and principles of the republic. Both, Pinel was told, had spoken for the condemnation of Danton. The Revolution, the establishment of democratic government, needed to proceed, but there currently was so much duplicity around.

And even if Lalladiere were reporting the truth, Pinel thought with a sigh, he would not be believed. Except possibly by someone, like himself, who knew there could be elements of truth in delusions, or that lunatics were often lucid and could distinguish truth from falsehood. His primary goal, in any case, for pursuing the details of Lalladiere’s fixation was to trace the cause of the insanity.

Lalladiere spoke of a betrayal. What did that have to do with his illness? Was it possible that the misgivings of a terrible disloyalty, falseness, or even treachery, could tear apart the fabric of the mind, make smart men speak gibberish, repeat other people’s words, or lapse into mute paralysis and negativism? Overly intense feeling, too much passion, undermines sensibility, that he felt sure of. Even if the betrayal were unintentional, overwhelming regret and self-reproach, coming out of a powerful, upright conscience, the aching pain of watching an idol fall because of your own actions might possibly push the mind into an abyss.

Betrayal was all around these days. The Revolution, which started well with a vital and hallowed purpose, has become bogged down in extremes and distortion, one leader turning against another, calling each other traitors, the builders of the Revolution turned into hunted criminals. These betrayals seem to arise from secret jealousy and hatred. What if that were true in Lalladiere’s case? Things for him started well and then there were repeated slights, ill treatment, inflicted mental pain. Built-up hatred, feelings of jealousy, dark wishes for vengeance could lead to betrayal. Hatred was a devastating passion, it could destroy rationality and reason.

Pinel put his hand to his head, rubbing it with anguished remembrance. My friend Gerard, perhaps he hated someone before he committed suicide. Perhaps it was another friend, perhaps a woman he knew. Pinel became anxious, his train of thought broken. Looking up at the bare ceiling, the thought came to him: perhaps he secretly hated me.

Eyes still on the ceiling, Pinel began to wonder about himself. Why, he thought, was he so sure about what he was doing? Was it really right to remove the chains, spend time talking with the inmates? Why was he searching after their little secrets? What would he find, and if he did find something, what would he do? He thought of his conviction that insanity was not produced, as some believed, either by size, configuration, or deformation of the brain. Well, didn’t his own intensive studies of the insane, together with the work of those in other countries, dispel the suppositions? He felt suddenly unsure. He sat, dejected, staring out his window he conjured up an image of the disturbed, wild face of his friend Gerard.

He once again reviewed the events of Gerard’s deterioration. The young man was of a gentle but driving character. He had many clients, won many cases, and wanted to become the lawyer for some kind of business conglomerate. When he unaccountably lost a trumped-up larceny case for one of his poor clients against the large Glovers Guild, he began acting strangely. He went into solitude and took to eating only yellow vegetables because he thought the red meat of a cow dulled the brain. Then he began speaking incoherently and thinking people were coming to his apartment to kill him. The Glovers Guild made him a big offer after the case, the poor client went to prison. Perhaps that was the cause for him—a betrayal. Why, he asked himself, didn’t I consider that before? Gerard may have hated me, but I must doubt it. He, as Lalladiere seemed to be, was very moral and conscientious. Betrayal of his client for the Glovers, his burden of remorse, more likely broke him. It was something unthinkable and he came to see himself as something less than human.

Pinel sighed. Many believe, like the mad themselves, that they are less than human. But it is true for none of them. Madness didn’t mean that Gerard, Lalladiere, or any of them were something vile, unfeeling, or beastly. Nor was the lunatic a criminal, or an idiot, unless he broke laws or also was devoid of intellect. Insane persons live on bitter salt. Each starves inside, but may be a wandering and questing warrior of everyday life, fighting to make sense of oppression, love, and loyalty. I must join them.