When a young woman goes missing, Phillipe Jacquemod, a vacationing embassy functionary, offers to search for her. That search leads him to a clinic in a remote area of Europe where the director has collected a number of women and transformed them through hypnosis into the greatest and most beautiful women of history. And the missing woman is to be the subject of his next transformation.
Description: When a young woman, Lila de Radetsky, goes missing, Phillipe investigates and tracks her down to a secluded castle and clinic in Hungary. Spying on the castle, he discovers a number of beautiful women dressed in the clothing of various historical periods. His spying was discovered, however, and he receives a polite letter inviting him to the castle: his host, Dr. Schomberg, explains that he established his clinic to empower women to resist the power of men
However, there is something darker here: in the same dialog, Dr. Schomberg admits the primary reason for his decision was the discovery that his lover was unfaithful. Furthermore, although he claims the women are here of their own free will, he immediately contradicts himself: one of the women, he said, he selected because she was highly susceptible to his mesmeric magnetic influence. The other women are similarly in the clinic are physically free to leave but mentally bound to stay. Even the ones that he "allows" to leave still carry his mental compulsions.
And this is about where I stopped reading for a while. I found myself predicting where the story was going: Phillipe and Dr. Schomberg would engage in a philosophical battle, ending with either the protagonist whisking away the young damsel in distress away from her intended fate, or the same, under the conditions of a wager between the two men as to whose influence would be stronger.
And the latter is what apparently happens, although without any formal declaration. That night, Lila sneaks into Phillipe's quarters, where she describes the process by which she was seduced into escaping with Dr. Schomberg and her horror at the results, but the following morning, Dr. Schomberg tells Phillipe that he directed the entire encounter. Lila is released into Phillipe's custody but soon after comes a warning note from Dr Schomberg that their hostilities are about to commence. Phillipe takes Lila on a cross-European excursion to avoid Dr. Schomberg and his influence only to find his agents (and one of the women from his clinic) awaiting them. That woman is the primary agent in Dr. Schomberg's scheme with the doctor himself in the shadows, waiting for one fateful moment the doctor has predicted.
Because Dr. Schomberg's intent is not to win any bet but to harm Phillipe, to allow him to fall in love with Lila and then to carry her away from him under his mesmeric influence. What he does not know is that his agent does not fully subscribe to his wishes, nor does he understand the relationship that has developed between Lila and Phillipe. In the end, he releases Lila to Phillipe's care and returns to his clinic, having released the women there (or so it seems: the line in the book is inconclusive.)
Commentary: Just who is this doctor lying to, the narrator or himself? He tells the protagonist that he had a broken relationship and now he's trying to teach women how to resist men? To that end, he's searched Europe for the right women to create a bevvy of legendary beautiful women (all with tragic pasts) to live with him in his secluded castle. It would all be a little more believable if he were public about what and why he was doing, but his veil of secrecy belies that notion.
Furthermore, it is obvious that the personalities he created were not the documented women from history, but, rather, the idealized projections of his own imagination on them. The real Cleopatra, not just royalty but of divine parentage, would never have sat down to dinner with a heathen such as Catherine the Great and made small talk and polite conversation. But we see little of them after that one scene.
Biography: Maurice Dekobra (nee Maurice Tessier) was a very popular and influential author during the years between the First and Second World Wars and after. He started writing at the age of 19, proficient equally in French, English and German, writing 35 novels during his lifetime as well as being an international journalist and professional traveler. His most famous novel is probably "La Madone des sleepings" ("The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars") which became a best-seller in any era, selling over 1 million copes and being translated into 30 languages, as well as being translated to the silver screen twice. "The Love Clinic" was originally titled "Flammes de velours" aka "The Flames of Velvet" (taken from a line by Dr. Schomberg: "Love is a velvet flame that caresses and consumes us at the same time.") and was translated from the original French to English by F M Atkinson.
Recommendation: Despite the datedness and the reliance on cultural elements and conventions almost a century old, the story does make a good read at the beginning but eventually becomes more predictable.
Addenda: This is one of the items in the collection that this blog was intended to illuminate: although I obtained the book several years ago, it was only now that I actually started to read it.
- Maurice Dekobra Biography at Pulp International