“The Love Clinic” by Maurice Dekobra

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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.


2 comments to “The Love Clinic” by Maurice Dekobra

  • Leslie

    Hey, it’s a pulp nov­el. You’re not sup­posed to think when you read them. 😉

  • HypnoMedia

    Actu­al­ly, I would­n’t call it pulp: it real­ly was­n’t mar­ket­ed at such and the writer did­n’t have a rep­u­ta­tion for writ­ing pulp fiction. 

    But just wait for what I’m writ­ing about next week. pulp would be a good descrip­tion for this work.