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The Structure of 'That Hideous Strength'

As we have seen in earlier articles, That Hideous Strength, the third novel in Lewis's so-called 'Space' trilogy, is actually a well-constructed thriller. Lewis has two protagonists. Mark and Jane Studdock, following parallel lines as one becomes embroiled with the evil agency N.I.C.E, while the other becomes acquainted, at the same time, with the company at St. Anne's. Later we discover that the company is benign, but, in true political thriller style, we are left guessing until Lewis is ready.

As we saw earlier, Mark's introduction to the Institute underlines the lack of humanity or real structure to the place and he is not sure to whom he should report, what the nature of his work will be, or indeed whether or not he is expected. This is quite the opposite of Jane’s experience at St. Anne’s:

"Are you Mrs. Studdock?" said the girl.

"Yes," said Jane.

"I will bring you to her at once," said the other. "We have been expecting you. My name is Camilla--Camilla Denniston."

Jane followed her. From the narrowness and plainness of the passages Jane judged that they were still in the back parts of the house, and that, if so, it must be a very large house indeed. They went a long way before Camilla knocked at a door and stood aside for Jane to enter, after saying in a low, clear voice ("like a servant," Jane thought), "She has come." And Jane went in; and there was Miss Ironwood dressed all in black and sitting with her hands folded on her knees, just as Jane had seen her when dreaming--if she were dreaming--last night in the flat.

"Sit down, young lady," said Miss Ironwood.

Mark’s vague ambitions about what he hopes to achieve at N.I.C.E. are caught up in complexity and disorder, losing all bearings; Jane’s unwanted nightmares turn out to be crisply understood and placed in a new context:

"Vision--the power of dreaming realities--is sometimes hereditary," said Miss Ironwood.

Something seemed to be interfering with Jane's breathing. She felt a sense of injury--this was just the sort of thing she hated: something out of the past, something irrational and utterly uncalled for, coming up from its den and interfering with her.

"Can it be proved?" she asked. "I mean; we have only his word for it."

"We have your dreams," said Miss Ironwood. Her voice, always grave, had become stern. A fantastic thought crossed Jane's mind. Could this old woman have some idea that one ought not to call even one's remote ancestors liars?

"My dreams?" she said a little sharply.

"Yes," said Miss Ironwood.

"What do you mean?"

"My opinion is that you have seen real things in your dreams. You have seen Alcasan as he really sat in the condemned cell: and you have seen a visitor whom he really had."

Lewis’s portrayal of the Ironic world within N.I.C.E. is clearly intended to make us feel uncomfortable and to disorientate us; Jane’s experience at St. Anne’s is described in such a way that we become orientated more starkly, especially when Miss Ironwood (compare her name to N.I.C.E.’s ‘Wither’ and ‘Feverstone’) asserts that Jane’s dreams are in fact valid visions of real events and that she is part of something much more structured than she thinks:

"Can you, then, do nothing for me?"

"I can tell you the truth," said Miss Ironwood. "I have tried to do so."

"I mean, can you not stop it--cure it?"

"Vision is not a disease."

"But I don't want it," said Jane passionately. "I must stop it. I hate this sort of thing."

Miss Ironwood said nothing.

"Don't you even know of anyone who could stop it?" said Jane. "Can't you recommend anyone?"

"If you go to an ordinary psychotherapist," said Miss Ironwood, "he will proceed on the assumption that the dreams merely reflect your own subconscious. He would try to treat you. I do not know what would be the results of treatment based on that assumption. I am afraid they might be very serious. And--it would certainly not remove the dreams."

"But what is this all about?" said Jane. "I want to lead an ordinary life. I want to do my own work. It's unbearable! Why should I be selected for this horrible thing?"

"The answer to that is known only to authorities much higher than myself.”

Modern psychotherapy is seen as a sham or at best ineffective against what are real, external forces operating through Jane. Modernism places the individual and his or her needs at the centre; the world Lewis is trying to introduce readers to is quite different:

"Young lady," said Miss Ironwood. "You do not at all realise the seriousness of this matter. The things you have seen concern something compared with which the happiness, or even the life, of you and me is of no importance. I must beg you to face the situation. You cannot get rid of your gift. You can try to suppress it, but you will fail, and you will be very badly frightened. On the other hand, you can put it at our disposal. If you do so, you will be much less frightened in the long run and you will be helping to save the human race from a very great disaster. Or thirdly, you may tell someone else about it. If you do that, I warn you that you will almost certainly fall into the hands of other people who are at least as anxious as we to make use of your faculty and who will care no more about your life and happiness than about those of a fly. The people you have seen in your dreams are real people. It is not at all unlikely that they know you have, involuntarily, been spying on them. And, if so, they will not rest till they have got hold of you. I would advise you, even for your own sake, to join our side."

In this way, Jane is introduced to the company that works at St. Anne’s, but decides to reject it: ‘I don't want to have anything to do with it.’ Meanwhile Mark, as he is drawn deeper into N.I.C.E., is completely oblivious that he has any power of decision in the matter. He finds himself sitting next to Hingest at dinner, a man who has openly said that he wants to leave the N.I.C.E. immediately:

"Well," said Hingest, "have they finally roped you into it, eh?"

"I rather believe they have," said Mark.

"Because," said Hingest, "if you thought the better of it I'm motoring back to-night and I could give you a lift."