First Point Alma Venus discussion (June 27, 2022)
Second Point Alma Venus discussion (August 3, 2022)
Third Point Alma Venus discussion (January 26, 2023)
Fourth Point Alma Venus discussion (April 27, 2023)
Thoughts on the Point Alma Venus Manuscripts (Dan Jensen’s further thoughts, following the 4th PAV discussion)
Numerous fragments of Jeffers manuscripts dated up to April 1926 have recently been collected, compiled, ordered, transcribed, edited, and published by Robert Kafka and Tim Hunt. These manuscripts appear to have served as source material for several poems published from 1924 to 1927, including Tamar, The Tower Beyond Tragedy, Roan Stallion, and Apology for Bad Dreams. One key poem, Point Alma Venus, was apparently on the verge of submission to Jeffers’ editor in April 1926 when the poet abruptly abandoned it. Elements of Point Alma Venus would persist into Jeffers’ next narrative, The Women at Point Sur, but the latter is essentially a different story.
The earliest surviving fragments of what would come to be Point Alma Venus appear to involve several story elements of interest to Robinson Jeffers in his earlier years. First was his relationship with his father, second was his struggle with the Christianity of his father, and third, his wife’s favorite: the occult. Right on the heels of all this is a fourth element: Freud.
Pulling a Biographical
The character Rev. Dr. Arthur Barclay is there from the start, though he would not always be central to the story as it was developed and recast. Barclay appears to represent Jeffers and his father conjoined in such a way that the young poet’s break with Christianity and corresponding plunge into Freudian rebellion can be depicted as a decision made by a mature theologian. As such, the poet and his father are brought together more intimately than they likely ever were in life, or to hijack Jeffers’ wording, a “psychic liaison between father and son—extraordinary rapport that continues through life and beyond”.
Another central character, Barclay’s son Edward, appears to represent Robinson Jeffers as the over-educated, under-socialized, naturally athletic boy that Robinson Jeffers had been. An additional commonality between the author and Edward is that both were born to a father and mother separated by a generation:
… Edward, the fruit
Of a young wife and late desires …
With so many parallels injected into two characters, the intimacy and alienation between father and son could together be represented. This biographical maneuver, interesting as it is, would fade as the poem was developed, however, several parallels between Barclay and the author would appear in the published work, Point Sur. In that work, Barclay is thirty years older than his only two children who appear to be fraternal twins. Jeffers’ own fraternal twins were born when he was weeks from turning thirty, in late 1916. Barclay wanders toward the lighthouse at Point Sur, and Jeffers builds a tower at Carmel Point. Jeffers retreats to his tower, and Barclay retreats to his mine shaft. One might even note that Barclay’s given name Arthur is not the farthest thing from the word “author.” But this is rather silly: we already knew that artifice is autobiography.
Occultism is a key element of Point Alma Venus (PAV). This was a favorite subject of the poet’s wife and a popular topic at the time. Una had in fact devoted her master’s thesis to the subject, under the heading “mysticism.” The occult would make its appearance in Jeffers’ breakthrough narrative Tamar, but it seemed more central to the plot of PAV. In Tamar, occultism feels like a fictional story element that can be taken to loosely represent “the collective subconscious,” “the spirit of place,” etc., but in PAV spiritualism is an object of science and investigation, and the author appears to accept telepathy as scientific fact. Barclay, having abandoned his religion, is in desperate need of reassurance that there is life beyond the grave, thus, like so many other spiritualists of his generation, he seeks to fill the gap, or at least solve the mystery, with the occult. The story asserts that Barclay has outgrown his God, yet he appears to be consumed by what he has lost, and in a rather banal sense: he is no longer immortal. In this regard the character is approachable and even engaging, but he is nothing out of the ordinary.
The occult investigations of Arthur Barclay would not make it into The Women at Point Sur, though the occult itself would persist. PAV itself appears to have been abandoned a couple months after magician Harry Houdini’s first testimony before Congress, the superstar skeptic’s latest offensive in a series of battles with a postwar wave of spiritualism.
In the first three of the four iterations of the manuscripts, Barclay accepts occult evidence for immortality. The final iteration of PAV, interestingly, presents Barclay as a sort of closed-minded skeptic, a man who refuses clear evidence of the occult directly under his nose (though remaining an unquestioning believer in telepathy). But Barclay breaks out of his denial phase and finally, at the end of PAV, seeks to find ultimate truth through the local medium. The story appears to present this as a remarkable or even revolutionary act. Barclay seems to think himself superior to the medium, as though the medium is merely, well, a medium. He suddenly wants more than knowledge of immortality. He seems to think that God has a message for him, and the medium is his spiritual hotline to God. The message one anticipates is perhaps a variant of the old Trinitarian formula, with Barclay and God united in the Godhead, but with the Holy Spirit relegated to a mere phoneline. Once the call goes through, PAV collapses in a crescendo of Pentecostalist gobbledygook.
Coming to the Point
This story should not be conflated with that of The Women at Point Sur. Yes, Jeffers is using a character named Arthur Barclay. Yes, Barclay is, just as in Point Sur, a former preacher who has renounced Christianity, but the two Barclays follow different paths with different motives and different belief structures.
It is hard to determine whether Barclay is the hero or the goat in this story, as is the case with Point Sur. It seems that the old man Morhead, himself a clairvoyant, has some deep natural knowledge of the psychic world as well as the inner world of Barclay himself. The old man looks down upon Barclay with omniscient contempt. Perhaps the answer for Morhead is that mind-melding with God is a fool’s errand. That’s a rather theistic message, but isn’t this whole story about a man becoming God? Jeffers always wanted to know God. He would never quite get past the idea of a remote Calvinist Omnipotence that mere pantheism could never contain.
What does old Morhead believe? He seems to believe in release more than wanting, death more than life. He knows the strain. He is intuitively aware of the Heraclitean formula, “fire is need and satiety,” but he is old; he sees and feels the end.
Jeffers’ purpose in writing PAV may or may not have persisted into The Women at Point Sur. I am inclined to believe that Jeffers abandoned PAV because he feared that it would soon appear laughable as the reputation of spiritualism collapsed under the onslaught of Harry Houdini. Jeffers would have to find a more materialistic (non-magical) narrative for his message, whatever that message may have been.
Sexual Repression and Erotic Geography
Though Freudianism does not appear to be a major theme in the initial iteration of PAV, it made its way to center stage for the second iteration (ca. 1923/24). At this point, Barclay’s liberation from Christianity is a Freudian release. Christianity appears here to be about sexual inhibition and denial, and Barclay’s liberation is likewise about sexual release. He screws his house servant, and then he screws the medium’s daughter (perhaps the word “rape” would be more accurate). Regarding Christianity, he spouts off about a handful of controversies, but the key force involved here is sexual strain, and this theme persists into the published work though the internal mechanisms would not be discussed so much in Point Sur. As in Point Sur, Barclay begins to see himself as divine, but in PAV one can almost appreciate his perverse sense of empowerment as he goes about whipping it out.
A key aspect of Barclay’s sexual liberation is the influence of the natural environment. As with Tamar, written at roughly the time that this theme appeared in PAV, the wildness of the landscape encourages Barclay to behave wildly. The notion is presented more poetically in Tamar, and a bit more forcefully in PAV as an expression of sexual aching and “animal compulsion”. It appears to have been largely stripped from Point Sur wherein Barclay’s wildness is perhaps a more abstract expression of post-Christian nihilism (Nietzsche’s nightmare).
 Storm as Deliverer (initial version). Point Alma Venus MSS, page 6.
 Storm as Deliverer (MacTorald version), IV. Point Alma Venus MSS, page 140.
 Bill To Regulate Mediums Develops Uproarious Hearing. Washington Post, February 27, 1926.
 Point Alma Venus MSS, page 196.
 The Ur Point Alma Venus, IV and Point Alma Venus, V. Point Alma Venus MSS, pp. 61, 176–7