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The Headmaster's Wife
"Part of a grand literary tradition...Deeply felt and utterly absorbing." -...
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Why do you think Arthur's delusions take the shape they do?

Created: 05/07/15

Replies: 11

Posted May. 07, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
davinamw

Join Date: 10/15/10

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Why do you think Arthur's delusions take the shape they do?

Why do you think Arthur's delusions take the shape they do? What do you think this says about his unconscious feelings?


Posted May. 10, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
reene

Join Date: 02/18/15

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RE: Why do you think Arthur's delusions take the shape they do?

Perhaps to live life over again. To be young again and for Elizabeth to be Betsy and for him to still have some power. It must have been very hard for Arthur to realize that he had not only lost his son, but was also losing everything else. He did have moments where he realized what was happening.


Posted May. 11, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
antypam

Join Date: 08/14/14

Posts: 15

RE: Why do you think Arthur's delusions take the shape they do?

Perhaps Arthur was continually longing for something he didn't have. Surrounded by classmates who had so many options available to them while in school together, Arthur felt his script had already been written, destined to become the Headmaster. He grew up at the school, attended the school, and became Headmaster of the same school - what a narrow world vision! As Headmaster he is always surrounded by bright students going places he will never go. He has to answer to a Board he has little in common with. His wife is more in love with what she thought her marriage and position would mean than she ever was with Arthur. His son was very different from him and he never understood those differences. No wonder the man could not cope with reality!


Posted May. 11, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
Retired Reader, NE

Join Date: 09/16/11

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RE: Why do you think Arthur's delusions take the shape they do?

Arthur and his parents/grandparents lived in the artificial world of Lancaster School. Beyond the years at Yale, he knew nothing of the outside world. He was poorly equipped to deal with reality. His drinking certainly didn't help. If this is the result of a privileged private educations, here's to public schools.


Posted May. 11, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
lindah

Join Date: 04/17/14

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RE: Why do you think Arthur's delusions take the shape they do?

I think Arthur's life plan had been laid out as a destiny and he was a willing conformist. His life was constricted, loveless, friendless and ultimately without positive choices. Re-imagining his wife Elizabeth as a youthful, beautiful Betsy gave him another opportunity to relive his life, yet continued to make an appalling choice with Russell. Arthur was really ill-equipped for coping with reality.


Posted May. 12, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
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jant

Join Date: 07/15/14

Posts: 20

RE: Why do you think Arthur's delusions take the shape they do?

Arthur was probably never mentally healthy. His upbringing in such a insular environment lead him to covet the more "normal" students. I imagine he was desperately unhappy even before his son was killed. His intense grief might have lead him to want to recreate a better life for himself. I think grief itself is very isolating. Arthur's grief coupled with an already isolating existence was enough to put him over the edge. It was interesting his colleagues kept congratulating him on handling his situation so well - which only added to his loneliness. Arthur's wife had isolated herself too - but in a healthier way with her obsession with tennis. Unfortunately, she was not any help to Arthur probably due to the fact she never loved him only the insular life they lead. Once her son was gone, she lost her connection to Arthur.


jan t
Posted May. 12, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
ElenaSpagnolie

Join Date: 10/10/11

Posts: 19

RE: Why do you think Arthur's delusions take the shape they do?

I think it's interesting how in his delusion he remains an older man while Elizabeth goes back to being a young girl. I think it gives him the illusion of power - power he clearly doesn't actually have. (Eg. Telling Betsy "you can't fall in love with me.") He has the chance to relive some of their more passionate moments, but it's a rather pathetic reinvention. He still loses the girl, he still feels threatened by Russell, he still lacks any real character and isn't above planting bottles of alcohol in Russell's room.
Even more interesting though is that he kills her! I think he's working through his anger at her emotional rejection of him, and perhaps he feels responsible for her suicide attempt. After all, he dumps her body in the same river she jumps into.


Posted May. 12, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
susiej

Join Date: 10/15/14

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RE: Why do you think Arthur's delusions take the shape they do?

I wonder if Arthur has ever been healthy in all his life. He lived a very protected existence, and his path was set for him - he never had a chance to choose his own destiny or plot his own course. An academic community is all he has known; the teacher student role is familiar to him. When he breaks he goes to what is familiar and comfortable and where he enjoys a sense of power. I was sorry that the author chose to include this perceived illicit affair between teacher and student for the simple reason that there seems so much of it in the real world today; I hoped the novel would avoid the commonplace altogether. If I had purchased this book, I would have discontinued my reading. Though there was no true affair of that nature and Arthur contrived it wholly, it is useful to show how unbalanced he was. Throughout the initial chapters where this is developed, I truly grew to almost hate Arthur. Once the book is completed and a reader understands the full plot as well as the means of its development, perhaps one would be drawn to pity or sympathy for Arthur or at least empathy. I was not. He was a well educated man, a privileged man; he understood manipulation and political maneuvering. He had means to help himself - but he failed to do so. Instead he allowed himself to slip into a sick and sleezy dream - where he enjoyed all the power - instead of confronting reality head on.


Posted May. 14, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
joycew

Join Date: 06/13/11

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RE: Why do you think Arthur's delusions take the shape they do?

I think it all comes down to a fear of growing old and the need to relive that teenage love. He can't quite make the jump to both of them being young, so now he is being reborn by having an affair with an 18 year old student. So many men cannot accept aging; they constantly need someone to stroke their ego; that is why all the May/December marriages and trophy wives.


Posted May. 14, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
alissac

Join Date: 05/14/15

Posts: 34

RE: Why do you think Arthur's delusions take the shape they do?

I think Arthur was all about roles: he knew where he fit in, what his life would be like. His wife and son, however, disrupted that by having their own minds, opinions, and desires. They shook up his version of their life, and his delusions, to me, seem to show him taking control back. HE pursued Betsy, he destroyed Russell, He finally kills Betsy before she can leave him...his delusions seems to be about control, to me, or a regaining of control, to create what he thought he had.


Posted May. 21, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
MarieA

Join Date: 10/12/11

Posts: 149

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RE: Why do you think Arthur's delusions take the shape they do?

Arthur's delusions are his escape from reality. He knows what he wants to be, but he can never realize his goals. Arthur's attempts to achieve failed, and he lacked the appropriate tools to adapt.


Posted Jun. 05, 2015 Go to Top | Go to bottom | link | alert
Windsong

Join Date: 05/07/13

Posts: 70

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RE: Why do you think Arthur's delusions take the shape they do?

I wrote this as an answer to another question and should have placed it here. Thank you Elena Spagnolie for discussing what was a confusing part to me.

I commented on one of the questions in this series that at first I thought I was reading another version of Lolita or another story similar to ones that appear in headlines at least once a month about illicit teacher/ student affairs so I was more curious than disgusted as I read Arthur's version of the affair. I enjoyed the book. It captivated me from its first sentence - so much so that I chose it for a book club discussion I am hosting in July. I do have a question of the other readers in this thread of comments. Was it simply mental illness that forced Arthur to confuse the reality of his courtship to the real Betsy/ Elizabeth with an imaginary Betsy/Elizabeth (with him an adult and her, the Betsy of her youth)? As I said, I did enjoy this book, but after reading it I was not sure if Arthur had had an affair with a student that reminded him of Betsy. I am curious as to how others decided that the affair with the student was only a figment of Arthur's mind.


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