The Air War in the Pacific: Victory in the Air by Trevor Nevitt Dupuy

By Trevor Nevitt Dupuy

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Robert Hankey noted that his son ‘had a tendency to morbidity’ (Letter to DWAH, 23 August 1905, HA1/25), which Dr Hodgkiss translates as ‘given to morbid introspection’, a term used in nineteenth-century psychological medicine to denote the condition in which an unhealthy man, overly aware of his body, turns away from being busy in and with the external world, and turns in upon himself, so entering a vicious circle in which the normal setbacks of life are magnified to feed his self-absorption to the point of hypochondria, depression and even madness.

For a critical biography of Benson, see David Newsome, On The Edge of Paradise (London, 1980). ‘Blasphemy and Filth’ 35 first involves and then disarms. Hankey was to achieve his greatest success with what were called ‘Letters from the Front’ in which he too attempted to voice his frustrations with not one, but two systems, the Church of England and the Regular Army. , the ‘Student’ presents a consolatory view of suffering. So buttonholing was the language of Hankey’s wartime ‘letters’ that his death in action drew letters in which reader after reader speaks of feeling as if he or she has lost a friend.

They have been returned to him by the widow of a friend, Herbert, an author who had died in some form of self-imposed exile on Madeira (like Mauritius an island). B. describes himself as ‘very near the end of my tether’; he is a literary-minded schoolmaster in a games-mad, philistine educational system which he detests. Hankey’s ‘Student’ feels the same about ‘bull’ in the Army, and about ‘medieval dogma’ in the Church of England. Even in self-doubt a way forward may be found, however. B. and Herbert are two sides of Benson, a writer whose fearsome literary productivity was fuelled by a lifelong manic depression.

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