“My dear, it’s so simple. If you will come with me, I can fill you, fill your body with any sense you choose. I can make you feel whatever you’d choose to be. I can give you certainty of joy for every moment of life. Secretly, secretly; no other soul--no other living soul.”
These are the words of Mrs. Sammile to Pauline. Mrs. Sammile is the sweet little old lady who is the voice of temptation in Descent into Hell. One does not normally associate sweet little old ladies with temptation, but I guess that’s William’s point. The temptation that Mrs. Sammile offers is happiness, happiness through fantasy, through shutting out others, through thinking of yourself, through escaping into your own version of reality and refusing to accept as real that very real reality that hurts so much: that very real reality which another (angelic) character calls “terribly good.”
Isn’t this the temptation we all face. When I am in pain, pain caused by my desire or self pity or anger in any of their various forms, then Mrs. Sammile comes to me. “Come with me,” she says. A thought, a specific action or course of action comes to my mind promising “to make you feel whatever you’d choose.”
“I deserve it,” I say to my self. “I’ll only go toward it, I won’t touch it, hold it, embrace it. There is nothing wrong with looking,” I lie to myself. The first step is to deny reality, to lie to myself, to shut out others. Once I accept my own reality, the one that promises pleasure (or at least cessation of pain), then I enter the daze, the fog. In the warm fog of my very own unreality I am happy, or at least I anticipate happiness.
Until a red flag appears. Maybe it’s my guardian angel, or maybe it is just the strong nature of reality to intrude into fantasy. “What is this happiness? Is it happiness? Is it the happiness I want? Where is this tending?” For Pauline, the red flag came at Mrs. Sammile’s promise, “You’ll never have to do anything for others any more.”
“Perjury,” she thought, “shall I lay perjury on my soul?” Pauline had just promised herself to help bear someone else’s burden. Now was she going to add to her selfish indulgence perjury?
It’s funny how the red flags come, how reality slips in, in unexpected ways. Red flags get our attention. They call us to snap out of our indulgent reverie. And for Pauline, the thought of perjuring herself was enough to break the spell--mostly because she was willing to have the spell broken.
We can always ignore red flags. If we want to. We can always petulantly hold on to our lollipop of sweet unreality, ignoring the red flags, ignoring all others, insisting on our own way, no matter how much it hurts, hurts ourselves and hurts others.
Hell is a difficult place to go to. You’ve got to fight to go to hell. You’ve got to really want it. And Pauline didn’t really want it.