Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 484
Stanley and the Women is divided into four parts, “Onset,” “Progress,” “Relapse,” and “Prognosis.” These refer most obviously to Stanley Duke’s son Steve, who at the start of the novel returns from a holiday abroad, shows immediate signs of disturbance, is diagnosed as schizophrenic, and is eventually hospitalized. Later, he...
(The entire section contains 484 words.)
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- Critical Essays
Stanley and the Women is divided into four parts, “Onset,” “Progress,” “Relapse,” and “Prognosis.” These refer most obviously to Stanley Duke’s son Steve, who at the start of the novel returns from a holiday abroad, shows immediate signs of disturbance, is diagnosed as schizophrenic, and is eventually hospitalized. Later, he is released into his father’s care but continues to show violent behavior, culminating in an accusation by his stepmother that he has attacked and stabbed her with a knife. He is returned to the hospital. The novel ends with no sign of his being cured.
Yet the main action of the novel concerns itself less with Steve, whose case is too inscrutable to be a primary interest, than with what his father perceives as the continuing irrational behavior of a whole sequence of women. Foremost among these is Trish Collings, the doctor appointed to look after Steve, who (again in Stanley’s perception) shows immediate hostility to her patient’s father and guides her treatment of Steve entirely with the aim of throwing guilt upon Stanley. She is abetted in this, though, by Nowell Hutchinson, Stanley’s first wife, and as the novel progresses, the reader begins very slowly to think that Stanley’s second wife, Susan, who has in the beginning seemed an ideal partner, is “on the other side” as well, concerned above all to secure her husband’s total attention and refusing to allow any of it to be redirected to her stepson. Near the end, her claim that she has been stabbed by Steve is wound was self-inflicted. Susan, however, takes offense at the merest hint of doubt and leaves Stanley immediately—only, in the very last words of the novel, to propose a reconciliation to which Stanley makes no answer.
There is no clear “prognosis” as to how Stanley’s relationships with women will continue, but there is every suggestion that these relationships are themselves a kind of disease. Several characters within the novel suggest that people make the same mistakes in their second marriages as they did in their first, so that marriage becomes a recurrent illness like malaria. This is at any rate superficially true of Stanley (twice married to determined but insecure and underachieving women), as of his first wife, Nowell (twice married to very heavy drinkers), and seemingly even of the novel’s authority figure, Dr. Nash, who for all of his eminence as a psychologist seems to have been married unsuccessfully four or five times and to be making no improvement. It has to be said, though, that Kingsley Amis does not complete the parallel between Steve’s illness and Stanley’s by suggesting that it is a woman who has driven Steve mad. It could have been, but no one ever finds out. The novel presents many pictures of irrationality but does not claim that all stem from the same cause.