Freud, Buchan, Sapper

At the recent Masculine Middlebrow conference in London, an interesting question came up. Had John Buchan read Freud?

Since Buchan had a strong interest in the unconscious (think of The Three Hostages) the answer is almost certainly yes. But when did he read him? Some possible references were made to fairly late Buchan texts, and I made a suggestion about The Thirty-Nine Steps, but a bit vaguely because I couldn’t recall the exact reference. Now I’m home, and I’ve found it – Chapter 10 of The Thirty-Nine  Steps, page 101 in the Penguin Complete Richard Hannay.

While playing bridge with the three men who have almost persuaded him of their innocence, Hannay notices that the older one “sat back for a moment in his chair, with his fingers tapping his knee.” He remembers the same unconscious gesture in the man he met at the moorland farm, and so is able to see through the men’s otherwise convincing display of innocence.  My conjecture is that this is a memory of Freud’s remark:

“He who has eyes to see and ears to hear becomes convinced that mortals can keep no secret. If their lips are silent, they gossip with their fingertips; betrayal forces itself through every pore.” in The First Dream; Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria (1905).

Sapper of course then gave the same unconscious gesture to Carl Petersen, allowing Bulldog Drummond to penetrate his otherwise faultless disguises on several occasions . Was this an unconscious hommage. or conscious hommage,  or just plain stealing?

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  1. […] borrowed a lot from Buchan (including even details like the involuntary gesture by which the disguised villain gives away his id…) but added a crucial ingredient to the formula. ‘Sapper’ does not send his heroes ranging over […]

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