We begin our week-long coverage of a new book of personal diaries by New Zealand writer James Courage (1903-63). Today: extraordinary passages that record tormented sessions with a psychiatrist

July 22, 1960

“Why should I be so afraid of you?” I said.

“Why do you think? Answer carefully.”

“There’s something sexual mixed up with it – though I’ve no idea what. Except that I always imagine you’re condemning me for my sexual practices – suckings and lickings – and will punish me.”

“That’s simply a rationalisation. Go and suck an elephant if you wish. Nothing wrong in it. The bigger the better.”

The idea seemed wonderful. “All the same I’m afraid of you. You’re going to bust me open – my rectum – something like that.”

“Yes, go on.”

“I put up a terrific resistance against you for it … Is it against incest? I’ve nothing against incest as such.”

“Go on. The unconscious – “

“If it’s unconscious then I’m fighting you incestuously, on that level. As my father.”

“It is unconscious, just as it always was originally, vis-a-vis your father. Also of course in fighting and despising you for your unmanly traits he was fighting homosexual feelings towards you in himself.”

“I’m quite certain he never felt them as such!”

“Of course not. They were deeply unconscious too.”

I took all this in slowly. “I want to love you,” I confessed at what seemed to be a tangent, “to give you everything, to be accepted – nothing would be better. A longing to be completely passive in your hands, like a child. But not be bust or disintegrated, as I so deeply fear. You’re like some immense hostile penis that could split me – and I don’t mean rectally – “

“That big penis is inside you already, busting you. Incorporated, as hostile. Think of it – “

“My super-ego?” I suggested.

Dr L. leant forward. “Yes – now this is an important point for you to understand. Two ideas to connect: the hostile, destructive penis of your father and the incorporated hostile super-ego (which you project on to me, and fear for unconscious reasons) – and the super-ego that is so tyrannical inside you, – the father’s penis – “

“A bad object, like the bad breast?”

Dr L. was checked a moment. “That also. Both of them. But one thing at a time. We’re on to a very important point, after all these weary months – “

“I didn’t mean to make them weary – “

“Weary for you, not for me, I meant … But you begin to see now why there’s this negative transference (or part of it)? This fear of me, and great resistance? It has a sexual undertone, unconscious – I want you to understand.”

“Don’t go too fast. This is new to me, you know.”

“Of course – and rather too much to take in. We’ll have to work through it.”

“I was going to say – interpretation’s not enough, is it?”

“Not in your case, anyway. Far from it.”

“Then I’ve got to defy that big cock of yours inside my mind – “

“Defy me, fight me. I’m the big cock. Don’t just give in, passively.”

“You won’t hurt me?”

“Swear at me for hurting you … “

We went on. “This is a very fruitful session,” Dr L. said several times – and, true enough, I felt a sort of reality or validity when we spoke (how shall I put it?) on a sexual level, however unconscious.


August 11, 1960

My tremendous guilt over the failure, the progressive shipwreck, of my life since I left Oxford (at the age of twenty-four) – my whole session with Dr L.
this morning was concerned with this. Of very deep importance: so much so, that my resistance makes me almost mute when I have to talk about it, to try
to explain. Fear and guilt literally stifle me, even when Dr L. intervenes, as he did to-day: “But thousands upon thousands of young men come down from Oxford and don’t find themselves tormented with guilt because they embark on lives of pleasure, autonomous lives, lives devoted to the arts and nonprofit- making activities.”

“In England, yes.” Impossible to explain my colonial background by contrast. “I was brought up in New Zealand,” I said.


September 19, 1960

“Your resistance is still high,” Dr L. said calmly. “Tell me where you consciously identify your resistance.”

“The area where it is highest?”


“I don’t know – about sex, I suppose – I’m overcome with shame there, however much I know I needn’t be.”

“Yes,” Dr L. said again, leaning forward. “If you’d tell me about your sexual fantasies it would encourage the transference. Let us try.”

“Sometimes I’ve felt it might be a help,” I admitted. “Just to confess my passivity – acting out a sort of hateful coquettishness towards you – offering my body – “

“Yes, go on.”

I went on. All the perverse fantasies I could think of – excretal and genital. “These things are part of my mind,” I excused myself, aware of a slight relaxation of my rigid abdominal muscles. “And I’m sure you don’t mind – “

“You must not apologise,” Dr L. impressed it on me “Say whatever comes to your mind here.”

I delved aloud further into the fantasies – the oral compulsions that emerged as fellatio …

“The breast,” Dr L. murmured. “Do not be ashamed.”

The masochistic anal day-dreams … again and again.

“These derive from infantile experiences and fantasies,” Dr L. absolved me. “Again, you must not feel guilty of them as an adult.”

“I do, always.”


James Courage (left, in ballet shoes), with the love of his life, Frank Fleet, on the beach at Mar del Plata, Argentina, February 1931. S10-580a, MS-0999/179, Hocken Collection

September 30, 1960

“This morning I’m going to do a little necessary interpretation. I’ve put off doing this lately, as you hadn’t been well and had had enough to deal with.”

He blew his nose and leant forward behind me. “This resistance and defence of yours,” he said, “is a sexual resistance against succumbing to me.”

“In the transference?”

“Of course. Even to yourself you won’t admit that you want my penis in your rectum.”

“But I have admitted it,” I said uneasily.

“Not with any conviction.”

“No, because I don’t see any value in a transference on that basis. Not here.”

“Why not?”

I hesitated. “Because I’d be passive, not active.”

“But that’s your sexual orientation – a masochistic one also, let’s admit. You can’t help it.”

“You don’t blame me?”

“Why should I?”

“Because in such a situation I’d be confessing myself no better than a hysterical woman.”

“You won’t accept your feminine deviation, will you! You’re so diffident about these sexual questions.”

“It’s very hard for me and always has been,” I reminded him.

“There you have two components of much of your difficulty,” Dr L. said. “The father whose cock you want and won’t admit to wanting – and the hostile, cruel father who is your super-ego and against whom I’m always trying to get you to rebel here.”

I became confused, lost in a sort of fog. “You mean,” I clutched at sense presently, “I can come along here and say to myself ‘I can grasp that great big comforting cock and it’ll be all right?’”

“Why not?”

“Because in actual fact you won’t give it to me, you can’t in this clinical situation.”

“That doesn’t prevent your wanting it. And you can and must abuse me when you don’t get it.”

I held myself taut on the couch. “It’s quite true,” I admitted. “If I could come here feeling there was some sexual bond – a secret love – between us I’d feel a much surer foundation of confidence and trust than I ever do now. I could hold on to that big cock to save myself.”

“Of course. The cock is a breast also.”

I waited a moment, confused again. “I’d certainly feel a warmth,” I admitted, “even a kind of love for you then. I mean the love would rise out of being allowed to feel passive to you here, without shame. I could accept my need.”

“Why is it so hard to accept – why is it productive of so much resistance and defence?” Dr L. returned. “Why?”

“You know very well,” I countered. And presently I rushed into confession: “I’ll tell you something – it’s only when I’ve sensed some inkling of love from you here, in the past, that I’ve known a relief from anxiety. But always I’ve got to sense that loving attitude first – your counter-transference, if you like – before I can respond. It’s like a tentative sexual approach on your side which makes me feel valuable, lovable, desirable …”

Dr L. waited in silence, listening.

“You must have a tricky time keeping track of your counter-transferences,” I relieved my tension by saying.

Dr L. gave a grunt of disconcerted laughter, then remarked: “I do my best.”

“You’d better!” I said. “And don’t you lose sight of the counter-transference in my case! It’s too important to me. Absolutely essential.”

For the rest of the session we discussed our relationship, with a good deal of sexual detail.


October 4, 1960

“Oh, and another memory – the anxiety I always felt at having to go to bed. My mother would say goodnight to me in the drawing-room before dinner – the last time I saw her for the day – then the nurse would whisk me upstairs and into what was a perpetual evening nightmare: lying alone, the nurse gone and my mother out of reach … Stark panic, as I remember it.”

“What age would you be then?”

“Two to four, about. Are such incidents important?”

“Indeed. But your mother’s general inadequacy of response was more important still. Her selfishness.”

“I remember that cold face,” I said in fear.


Two actors from Courage’s play Private History, a critical and box-office success, performed in London in 1938. Courage wrote in his diary, “I feel, after all my anxiety, that it is all too good to be true.” S19-601i, MS-0999/005, Hocken Collection.

October 11, 1960

“The resistance always seems to spring from one fact: my guilt about my homosexuality,” I trembled.

“Even now?”

“Very much so. All the oral and anal acts involved – the sucking, licking, biting. Even my queer fantasies I tend to hide from you, out of guilt.”

“But these things – these acts – are as natural to you as is normal sex to a heterosexual. No less, no more.”

“I wish I could accept that.” I waited. “You know, when I had that good period a week or more ago, I think it arose because for once I felt guiltless, sexually, with you. I needn’t defend myself any longer. What chance of survival would I have had in a hostile world? None at all, without money, security, confidence – just what I didn’t possess.”

“Indeed,” Dr L. admitted thoughtfully. “Go on.”

“No-one would’ve supported me, except possibly my grandmother – the only person I felt loved me for myself. And her I hardly saw. She lived in the mountains, a hundred miles away from the farm. And after her son, my uncle, had seduced me – and had been found out – how could I appeal to her? My guilt inhibited me, though the seduction wasn’t really my fault.”

“No,” Dr L. said.

“Do you know what my uncle called me? I was this timid boy – delicate and small even at fourteen – and he called me ‘White Mouse’. He seduced me in a cave, a limestone cave. I was terrified. For six months afterwards I lived on the verge of a breakdown, then collapsed at school. But I couldn’t tell anyone why. I thought I’d go to prison, be hung.”

“Who found out your uncle’s seduction of you?”

“The tutor who was teaching him at home. My uncle was about nineteen or twenty at the time, only five years older than I … Is this all important?”

“If you feel it important to you,” Dr L. said.

“I do, because it confirmed my guilt at a critical age … It castrated me even more emphatically than my mother had done, and made me even more guilty in my father’s eyes (though he didn’t know of the seduction).”

January 11, 1961

My father was a hard, selfish, condemning swine, with almost no friends – and that’s the truth. He was an uncultured, sneering, ignorant, provincial New Zealand farmer whom I saw as my enemy (and unfortunately internalised as such), the enemy of my sensibility, my tenderest feelings, the values I valued – all my little artistic leanings, my inarticulate puttings forth towards poetry, my terrified shy hunger for evidences of love from my environment (and God knows I got few enough)…He deserves only the hell he has given me.*

Have I exaggerated my father’s character here? No, I don’t think so. With the exception of my eldest sister, my brothers and sisters considered the old man was a tyrant, a bad-tempered unsympathetic monster, to be spoken of only with a half-apologetic laugh (as though he were listening). Even Patricia, my mildest sibling, once said, on looking at a photograph of the N.Z. homestead, the hills, the scene of our childhood: “You know, it could all have been quite beautiful if it hadn’t been for those old devils Dad and Mum. They spoiled it for us, our parents.”

*Courage’s father committed suicide the previous year


June 4, 1961

Worry, not least about the situation last night with S. He said he wanted us to relinquish (anyway for a while) our more intimate relationship: “If you don’t mind.”

“Of course I mind. Very much,” I retorted.

“It’s not you, and not your fault. It’s in me. This passive sexual business gives me such conflict. Not at the time – I enjoy it – but later, when I’m calm.”

“Yes.” I’ve known this for some time, and have even explained it to him (analysis of infantile sado-masochism, etc, and his being put in a resented passive role, etc). ‘This was bound to happen, though I’m not going to accept it myself masochistically, as a rejection’ (all the same I was doing just that, inside). “I’ll hate losing our good times,” I added.

“It’s my aggression that the trouble. It’s been coming out lately, perhaps as a result of analysis. Anyway I don’t want us, you and me, to end in a blazing row. We’ve far too much in common, to finish as enemies. I must tell you all this – “

“Yes, it is better to,” I said. “But I’m sad, all the same.”

“You mustn’t take it as personal – “

“Well, it makes me think I’m a bad lover.”

“No, nothing like that,” he broke in. “But I don’t want any sex for a while, with anyone. I’m in a chaotic state – a stage of my treatment, I suppose – and I want to be surer where I’m going. I mean, whether I want to be passive or active, or just opt out of sex altogether.”

We went on talking. But inside me I was sad, as I’d told him. My liaison with S. has meant a lot to me over four or five years and I’m grateful to him. Very grateful. And something within me kept saying, “This is your last explicit affair – there’ll be nobody else. Anything sexual from now on will be different for you.” How could I not be sad and in fear? Loss of a link, loss of libido, shadow of a lifetime of inhibited and imperfect relationships. Yes, it hurts and dismays me.

In the evening S. came here. A khaki shirt, open because of the heat: a torso like a labourer’s. For once he was not ambivalent about wanting sex. We went to bed. Better for him than for me. I had to summon ten workman-fantasies to achieve an end. Not very successful. But S. was more potent than for a long while: “I just am that way tonight. It must be the hot weather.”

We smoked cigarettes in bed afterwards…He said, “You know, this ought to be the answer – lying here in peace. If one had this every night … but doesn’t work out … one has too much withdrawal … what you call a failure of object relationships. But, to live with another man would be – what? – “

“A nice breach of the law, for one thing,” I joked.

“I wasn’t thinking of that …”

I kissed his belly and genitals – “One of the best local views, down there” – and got up to wash. “Why aren’t you always like this?” I asked later. “I mean why don’t you want sex more often?”

“All you think of is my body,” he mocked.

“Nothing of the sort, you exasperating bastard.”

A playful scrimmage – yes, at my age – ensued. “You’d better go home,”  I said.

 “Want to turn me out, do you?”

“Stop it, be yourself!”

“You know I don’t mean it.”

He left at midnight.


July 31, 1962

Charles Brasch telephoned last night  partly to say goodbye & partly to ask if I’d heard of “the ban”.

“Ban? What ban?”

‘Your [novel] Way of Love has been banned by the Customs in New Zealand.”

“Well, who’s responsible?”

“Oh, some nasty-minded little official. But there’ll be a row. I’ll kick up a stink when I get back. I’ll do everything I can, depend on me. I’ll suggest they might ban Shakespeare’s Venus & Adonis also.”

“No, don’t go as far as that! The book (mine) isn’t good enough to make a fuss.”

“But it’s the principle. Anyway there’ll be a run on such copies of the book as are still in the libraries; in fact it will be lent round in all directions.”

“I don’t know whether to be depressed or what.”

“Be angry. Anyway I’ll do what I can. I’m flying home on Wednesday, but hope to be back in 2 years.”

“If we’re both still alive. Anyway, my dear C., good luck to you.”

I feel nervous about the ban to-day, but not at the moment depressed by it. Even if there were a court case in NZ I wouldn’t be there. But slight paranoid feelings do arise apropos of the NZ background, even so. A bit mephitic, though only what I’d expect; “that dreadful book”, and so on. All the same I regret that it wasn’t much more “dreadful”. It was too timid by far, a mouse of a novel.


June 17, 1963*

* Courage died on October 5, 1963

Session at 10, as usual. Told him about S. and me on Friday night: the fellatio, the arse-licking, the lot: tried to make it as little apologetic as
possible: “That is my sex and you can take it or leave it.” All the same I’m very uncertain within, and almost want condemnation…

More infantile anger (inhibited) then the session came to an end. At least I think I can see where I’m going, in a blinkered sort of fashion.

Taken from James Courage Diaries edited by Chris Brickell (Otago University Press, $45), available when lockdown levels allow online orders through bookstores. Tomorrow: a portrait of Courage.


James Courage (1903-63) was raised in North Canterbury, attended Christ's College, and fled for London as soon as he could. He wrote eight novels in the UK, and Charles Brasch published a posthumous collection...

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