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Selvdrolla

Dreamed before 1922 by Havelock Ellis

I dreamed once that I was with a doctor in his surgery, and saw in his hand a note from a patient saying that doctors were fools and did him no good, but he had lately taken some selvdrolla, recommended by a friend, and it had done him more good than anything, so please send him some more.

I saw the note clearly, not, indeed, being conscious of reading it word by word, but only of its meaning as I looked at it; the one word I actually seemed to see, letter by letter, was the name of the drug, and that changed and fluctuated beneath my vision as I gazed at it, the final impression being selvdrolla.

The doctor took from a shelf a bottle containing a bright yellow oleaginous fluid, and poured a little out, remarking that it had lately come into favour, especially in uric acid disorders, but was extremely expensive. I expressed my surprise, having never before heard of it. Then, again to my surprise, he poured rather copiously from the bottle on to a plate of food, saying, in explanation, that it was pleasant to take and not dangerous.

This was a vivid morning dream, and on awakening I had no difficulty in detecting the source of its various minor details, especially a note received on the previous evening and containing a dubious figure, the precise nature of which I had used my pocket lens to determine. But what was selvdrolla, the most vivid element of the dream? I sought vainly among my recent memories, and had almost renounced the search when I recalled a large bottle of salad oil seen on the supper table the previous evening; not, indeed, resembling the dream bottle, but containing a precisely similar fluid. Selvdrolla was evidently a corruption of 'salad oil.'

This dream illustrates the uncertainty of dream consciousness, but it also illustrates at the same time the element of certainty in dream subconsciousness. Throughout my dream I remained, consciously, in entire ignorance as to the real nature of selvdrolla, yet a latent element in consciousness was all the time presenting it to me in ever clearer imagery.

We see that the subconscious element of dream life treats the conscious part much as a good-natured teacher treats a child whose lesson is only half learned, giving repeated clues and hints which the stupid child understands only at the last moment, or not at all.

--Havelock Ellis

EDITOR'S NOTE

Not at all, I'm afraid. Ellis focuses on a single word, selvdrolla, declares it a mere "corruption" of the first association he has, and thinks he's done. "Stupid child!"

Say he's right, and "selvdrolla" is the key to the dream. What about the obvious-- self, and salvation? That certainly fits with the medical context: "save yourself with this!" And why the r? It's not in salad oil. A doctor is present, so it's no stretch to suspect "dr" of being an abbreviation. Dr Olla! Doctor Oil will cure you! And of course there's always "droll". Selvdrolla would then be "finding yourself hilarious"--undeniably healthy advice for Dr. Havelock Ellis.

Or "droll" may be just a clue for Ellis's plodding conscious, telegraphing that the word's a joke, a multiple pun. Heavy-handed, but still he fails to get it.

What of the other 190 words Ellis ignores? Read naively (always a good starting point!), it simply recommends Ellis use more salad oil--not threatening him with death if he doesn't, just suggesting it's pleasant and healthy. (And given the typical British diet in 1922--wall-to-wall saturated fat, except for salad oil and some fish--the dream's recommendation is quite sound!)

Notice that Ellis doesn't reject it--he never considers the overt message at all! He's deaf to the very idea his dream could have an intent--even a meaning, in the practical sense.

I'm not surprised. In the same book, Ellis dismisses a woman's dream of chopping off her husband's head. It's mere image-association, not indicative of any little problems on the home front. That would be over-interpreting!

Ohhhhkay... I'm off to have a salad now.

--Chris Wayan



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