Monday, May 10, 2010

Naming the parts

Photo: Pamela Gordon with family friend John Money in Dunedin, March 1993, at a literary conference

Frame studies "paparrazo" Patrick Evans (his own term) has posed a complicated theory for why Janet Frame called her close friend John Money "John Forrest" in her autobiography. I've been told that his explanation went something like "John Money - money belt - belt of trees - forest".

I have my own theory but I don't remember ever suggesting it to Janet. My guess is that "Forrest" comes from the "It's only for a rest" that John reassured Janet with, when he and two other men from the University of Otago's Psychology Department came to her home late one night to march her off to the psychiatric ward at the local hospital. Money and the others feared that if a student who was in an inappropriately close emotional relationship with her tutor, committed suicide, as she had been threatening to, "the Psych Dept's name would be black" (this extraordinarily revealing quote is from John Money's journal at the time, quoted in the Michael King biography, Chapter 4). Frame was handed over that night to the hospital staff already tagged with the label "schizophrenic" (the inexperienced young psych student Money was arrogantly certain of his ability to make this call despite his own lack of medical qualifications) and his 'diagnosis' was apparently never challenged until over ten years later when Frame consulted a reputable hospital in London. As a result of this initial committal at the hands of three academics specialising in psychology, Frame famously found herself trapped in a cycle of institutionalisation.

Another theory for the name "Forrest" emerged at a literary festival in Dunedin in 1993. John Money was on a panel discussing the fact that he was known to be the inspiration for Frame's fictional character Brian in LIVING IN THE MANIOTOTO, as well as of course having earlier been an influential (if somewhat malevolently so) key figure in the young Janet's life story. Well known New Zealand children's author Margaret Mahy was in the audience, and at question time she proposed that perhaps Frame had chosen to replace "Money" with "Forrest" in her autobiography because the real name signified too much crass materialism and swayed the reader off in a false direction if applied to Money. She thought that with Frame's sensitivity to names, that the conflict between the name "Money" and the man, would have been too great. Something more natural was called for. (I think an analogy was drawn to Frame's own change of name from the fixed inflexible FRAME to the fluid river CLUTHA.)

I do go to literary festivals for my own pleasure and edification, but at this particular session I was also functioning as Janet's spy. She wanted to know what people were saying, especially as her writing was one of the main subjects of the session, and I suppose she was interested to hear what John would say. She was ever alert to disloyalty or misrepresentation on the part of her inner circle. She was a very forgiving friend, but preferred to know who she could trust. When I later told her that someone had suggested she changed John's name because "Money" was too unsuitable a name for him, she laughed, and said, that if she'd been choosing a semantically appropriate name for him then "Money" would have been the FIRST name she'd have chosen...

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