Frédéric Boutet: Hypnotism (part one)
“Gilberte, I’m bothering you, you were going out.”
“You could never bother me, you know that very well, my little Lydie. But, it’s my husband’s consultation day, and I make the best of it. I have my shopping, what can I say? It annoys me to see my living room stuffed with a crowd of strangers. It’s idiotic and I would never tell Pierre…his patients! So, if you’d like to go out together, right now, we will stop at my dressmaker’s, then at the Four Seasons, and take our tea.”
“Oh, yes, willingly. I have something to tell you, and I want your advice. My dear, you don’t know what’s happened! My husband wants to hypnotize me.”
“Yes. He’s sure he has an extraordinary power of suggestion. Sometimes at the music hall we see a professional magnetist who operates on a woman, and also a few spectators… It’s quite impressive. My husband has caught an enthusiasm; now he thinks of nothing but this. He’s bought a stack of booklets on the subject…little by little he’s been taking on superior and mysterious airs. Finally he says to me that he is, him, a magnetizer of the first rank, and that I, without rival, am a remarkable subject, and that he is going to put me to sleep. I say no. He insists. You know what he is when he gets an idea in his head…”
“But, that’s ridiculous. Go on saying no.”
“It’s hard, though. It’s become a matter of vanity, I can see, and from the moment his vanity comes into play, he’s intractable. His imagination tells him I refuse from fear…of saying too much in my sleep. He said to me yesterday in a disinterested way, but that I know was from suspicion: ‘Can you be hiding something from me? And you’re afraid I’ll make you reveal it?’ He is all the more jealous for pretending not to be, for his ego’s sake…I tell you, Gilberte, I’m very tired of it. But I don’t want to let myself be hypnotized. It scares me. Especially because even if he hears nothing, he can make use of it, claim he’d made me speak, and that against my will I’d told him…”
“You have some compromising thing you might tell?” asked Gilberte with a half-smile.
Lydie gave a small shrug and blushed. “But no, I assure you, absolutely nothing serious. Only, between the truth I tell, and the truth of reality, there is still a difference. So many things are innocent to the eyes of a woman, that to the eyes of a jealous man are not at all. And my husband is so jealous. At the same time he’s so full of himself, so headstrong, he won’t give the idea up. I don’t know what to do. Do you really speak against your will when you’re hypnotized? It is dangerous to let yourself sleep? You must know, because your husband is a doctor.”
“But Pierre hasn’t given me a course in medicine,” said Gilberte. “Anyway, he doesn’t occupy himself at all with hypnotism. I believe I’ve heard him say it’s a raft of chicanery, in his opinion. But wait a minute, my little Lydie. Your husband is tormenting you and wants to impose on you something you’re afraid of. You need hardly worry over any scruples. Now, you’re certain if you ask him very gracefully not to insist, he’ll still be disagreeable?”
“Yes…no, from the moment his vanity and jealousy are in play, the more I refuse him, the less he lets it go.”
“Too bad for him, then. Pretend! Fake sleep for one or two minutes and whatever he asks you to tell him, don’t give.”
There was a little silence.
“It’s his fault I have to do this,” said Lydie. “I have no other way to be rid of it. He’s going to ask me again this evening if I’ll let him hypnotize me. Yes, too bad for him, I will.”
Before arriving at the age of adulthood, and on every occasion since, M. Alexandre Lérouvel, the husband of Lydie, had been in the habit of directing his life by the noble maxim: What a man has done, a man can do. He derived much personal dignity from it, and much scorn for the rest of humanity. Albeit, practical results obtained by this gentleman were no match for the opinion he held of himself.
Among society his brilliance made no exceptional impact. After a good education he had gone into government, even was head of a bureau. His future seemed not to promise him much more. But he’d inherited a fortune from his parents, and married Lydie, a young blonde person, timid, coquettish, lackadaisical. The whole of her love scarcely compensated, he felt, for the favor he’d done her, in choosing her above all others for a companion. That she could think for herself, or resist in the least his will, seemed to him inconceivable.
Came the evening, when M. Lérouvel at last got Lydie’s consent to be hypnotized. The servants had quit the apartment. Alone in their half-lighted living room, the two sat face to face, close as could be on their two chairs. Lydie’s knees were between those of her husband, her hands were held in his, her eyes took in the dominating gaze fixed on them.
“Sleep!” said M. Lérouvel at the end of a minute or two. “Sleep, I command.”
She fluttered her eyelids, then closed them, then opened them halfway.
My power is upon her, thought Lérouvel, transported, and he said again more imperiously: “Sleep, I tell you!”
Again Lydie fluttered her lids, and M. Lérouvel released the hands of his young wife, freeing himself to make airy gestures that wanted to be the passes of magnetism. At the same time, with laudable good faith, he concentrated all his strength of will on the goal to be attained.
(2020, translation, Stephanie Foster)