He bared his soul to women, his dream diary, and to his shrink
Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s charisma always lay as much in the enigma of the man as in his physical presence or acerbic intelligence. He kept his private self guarded from even his closest colleagues. Friend and adviser Marc Lalonde compared Canada’s 15th prime minister to an oyster that opened with great difficulty, adding that Trudeau had only once spoken to him about a personal matter—the breakup of his marriage to Margaret Trudeau. Yet to women, as John English demonstrates in the first volume of his two-part study Citizen of the World: The Life of Pierre Trudeau (Knopf), the man who exalted reason over passion was astonishingly—passionately—open about his desires and fears. English is the first biographer to have had full access to Trudeau’s private journals and voluminous correspondence, including drafts—sometimes multiple—of the letters he sent
HIS ANALYST ASSURED TRUDEAU HIS SEXUALITY WAS `NORMAL' BUT SUBLIMATED BECAUSE OF RELIGION
others. Those he wrote to his mother and to a handful of other extraordinary women are the most frequently quoted documents in Citizen, English writes, because they “reveal most fully the private self that Trudeau quietly cloaked.”
And what a self they show—drivingly ambitious and intensely romantic, intellectually curious and devoutly religious, jealous of his personal liberty and possessive of the attentions of his female correspondents. That’s never more on display than in the 200 letters the twentysomething Trudeau sent Thérèse Gouin, four years his junior and
another child of Montreal’s francophone elite, during the 1940s. Letters from Harvard chronicle an explosive if painful intellectual growth—it was from there he wrote Gouin of his regret that he had kept his eyes glued to his academic studies, somehow ignoring “the greatest cataclysm of all time occurring 10 hours from my desk.” When Gouin asked for clarification, she received a terse response dated May 25, 1945, after the fall of the Third Reich: “The cataclysm? It was the war, the war, the WAR!”
But it is the personal aspect of their relationship-two young Catholics falling in love via correspondence—that proves so fascinating. Their letters are full of hopes and dreams, and thick with (mostly) suppressed emotion, although jealousy and a hint of sexual frustration emerge in Trudeau’s. He grew increasingly unhappy with the psychoanalysis that Gouin, later an eminent psychologist and officer of the Order of Canada, was
undergoing as part of her studies—especially the notion she should keep any of it private from him. By early 1947, however, Trudeau too—partly because of his emotional turmoil, partly because it was in the intellectual air (what could be more au courant, in the postwar Paris of Jean-Paul Sartre, than Freudian analysis?)—had begun to visit an analyst.
Much of the record of Trudeau’s analysis survives: his careful, not to say obsessive, preservation of his personal papers makes him the best documented of all prime ministers —with the possible exception of William Lyon Mackenzie King. So English was able to examine the bills (high) and the hours of consultation, which the biographer says are “unusually long”—at least three times a week for appointments that could last for hours. (Neither was a problem for the independently wealthy young patient.) Trudeau also preserved his own transcript of his dream diary as well as his notes of the free-association sessions—documents, English writes, “that reveal subtle and even major amendments to the standard version of Trudeau presented in his own memoirs and in other studies of him.” Handled with care—parts of the handwritten documents are illegible— the notes capture Trudeau at an emotionally fragile time, February to June 1947-
The analyst Trudeau chose was one of the most eminent in France. Georges Parcheminey, 59, a founding member of the Paris Psychoanalytic Society, combined a dedication to Freud with personal courage—he once praised Freud, a Viennese Jew, to the face of Nazi officers in occupied France—and a healthy dose of common sense. Parcheminey often cautioned Trudeau not to take himself or his problems too seriously—or, for that matter, psychoanalysis as a science.
Surprisingly, despite the frequent dream presence of his then-closest friend (and later speech writer) Roger Rolland, there is little
mention of Gouin. Or of politics, though there was one dream set in the Val d’Or gold mine where he had worked the previous summer. In it, Trudeau refused to buy the deluxe edition of a new nationalist book (perhaps his legendary cheapness was battling his nationalist and socialist tendencies). In another dream, Trudeau grew angry with a taxi driver who insisted on speaking English (shades of the fat Anglo saleslady at Eaton’s who later loomed so large in the mythology of Quebec’s language wars). Fond images of his father, Charles, who died young in 1935 (he was 46 and Pierre 15), were frequent. In one dream, the notes record, “Papa, on his return from Europe, ordered a ‘frou-frou’ cake, but a ‘Canadien’ brought him a half ‘tarte’ with whipped cream.”
What might have interested Trudeau the most was the bottom-line Freudian discussion of sexual content in the dreams. His brother, Tip, and sister, Suzette, appear often, and Parcheminey told Trudeau (who agreed with him) that he envied the fact his siblings were married. In Freudian terminology Trudeau wrote that his dreams showed “a combination of timidity and aggressiveness,” compensation “for a genital phase that had not been achieved.” Parcheminey responded with a common-sense caution that Trudeau should ease up on the self-criticism.
THE FUTURE PRIME MINISTER MAY HAVE LEARNED A LOT ABOUT HIMSELF, BUT HE DIDN’T CHANGE
By the genteel Freudian wording, “a genital phase that has not been achieved,” Trudeau meant he was a 27-year-old virgin, a status maintained by powerful religious conviction and by a desire to travel the world unencumbered. Parcheminey helpfully said that he had not detected a castration complex, nor any evidence of homosexuality, which was in any event curable. He assured Trudeau that his sexuality was “normal,” and he had sublimated it only because he was a steelwilled believing Catholic, for whom marriage was a profound sacrament. For his part,
Trudeau made a note—pregnant for the future—of the fact that premarital and adulterous sex were much more common in France than in Quebec, even among Catholics.
Trudeau grew fond of his analyst and became convinced that analysis could help him understand—if not change—himself. So he kept up his expensive and time-consuming visits. The psychiatrist reassured him that there was a way out of his conflicts: marriage. “One or two years of married life, where the vital spirits would be able to find expression, where your virility would find its expression in the responsibility of the marital home, the contact with feminine softness, and the satisfaction of your sexual appetite.” The sessions continued for two weeks after that point, focused—despite Trudeau’s dream of a friend’s union gone bad—on marriage. With that, Parcheminey declared the analysis finished. “One or two years after marriage, all should go well,” he said. But, as English succinctly summarizes, “it would not be so easy.” Trudeau may have been right that he had learned much about himself; he was certainly correct that self-knowledge hadn’t changed him. Tensions remained with Gouin—jealousy on his side, doubts about his enigmatic ways on hers, conflicting professional ambitions on both. He was angry too, that she had revealed in confession that Trudeau had been to analysis—“a secret ought to remain a secret.” When they met again in person, in Montreal in the late spring of 1947, the love affair—intensely emotional, completely non-physical, and clearly best experienced at a distance—began to die. In 1948, Thérèse Gouin became engaged to Trudeau’s friend Vianney Décarie, later a distinguished philosopher. (In 1968, the Décaries, both prominent Université de Montréal academics, were among the first supporters of Trudeau’s bid for the prime ministership.)
Sometime in the 1950s, the ideal (and fact) of chastity melted away for Trudeau, as it did for so many Catholics during the long runup to the sexual revolution of the following decade. But Pierre Trudeau remained true to himself, a passionate defender of his own personal liberty who exhibited a corresponding possessiveness over prospective lovers’ lives. There were other women, but he never married until 1971, when he was 51. Nl
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