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His wife, in her diary, sometimes wondered whether he gave in too thoroughly to his sense of failure. Lord what human beings are! Both Woolfs were in the perpetual business of writing, editing, publishing, and reviewing books. Leonard Woolf was also the literary editor of The Nation and, for twenty-seven years, co-editor of The Political Quarterly , and he counted among his contributors H. Never was a man more occluded by masterpieces. There is thus a mystery and a peculiar satisfaction surrounding the fact that Woolf, at nearly eighty, began to publish an autobiography that was immediately hailed by reviewers, won an important literary prize, and, in the almost half century since the first volume appeared, has seldom been out of print.

He was an austere man, with a strong temper and a thin face, whose clothes fit him loosely; reserved, even shy, in many social situations, he would also take his pipe from his mouth and become, unpredictably, declamatory; he was idealistic about the possibilities of human society, but often preferred the company of animals; his hands had an inherited tremor that sometimes embarrassed him; he had a quality of leading at the same time that he had a quality of holding himself aside. Woolf had a bad head ack.

She rightly emphasizes what Woolf was long reluctant to say: that his Jewishness alienated him once he began school and that, in the at best casually anti-Semitic world of the British intelligentsia, it affected all his relations. They felt themselves to be Greek and free. Clive [Bell] a gay and amiable dog. The role of the rabbi seems to have combined a personal sense of history, a strong moral force, and the willingness to be a confidant.

Still She Wished for Company (Landmark Library)

Like the Stracheys, the Stephens made an indelible impression on young Leonard Woolf. Their Cambridge set, with the addition of Roger Fry and a few spouses and relations, was Bloomsbury.


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His attachment was fierce none of his friends, as Glendinning observes, wrote as much about the Apostles as he did , but at college the effect on his writing was not salutary: his letters ramble among private jokes, his poetry is sentimental, his competition paper did not win a prize. In the next seven years, Woolf learned Tamil and Sinhalese, oversaw the pearl-fishing season, supervised the salt harvest brought in on the backs of buffalo, and shot the buffalo when they contracted rinderpest.

Though he deplored how little he was writing and reading in Ceylon, it was there that his prose gained its distinctive specificity of observation, and the tone of the experienced, thoughtful older brother that people found bracing and reassuring in his conversation. He kept a meticulous, unflattering official diary, which his higher-ups criticized, and which the Sri Lankan government published after independence as an accurate portrayal of colonial life.

He also wrote Strachey intense, descriptive letters, which he quoted and refashioned in his later work. The dead man had lived, had worked, had died. He had died working, without suffering, as men should desire to die. I heard continually the word Khallas—all is finished. I watched the figures outlined against the grey sky—the long lean outline of the corpse with the toes sticking up so straight and stark, the crouching huddled figure of the weeping man, and the tall upright sheik standing by his side.

They were motionless, sombre, mysterious, part of the grey sea, of the grey sky. But it was clear that his emotional life was still bound up with the Apostles. In , Lytton Strachey proposed to Virginia Stephen. Forster was more worried about his fictional Leonard than the Stephens and Stracheys were about the real one. Vanessa Bell thought Woolf the very man for her sister. One of the committee members later asserted that the mist formed into the shape of an old woman. The form drifted about the room, appearing to pass directly through the medium, before evaporating into the opposite wall.

Was it a genuine glimpse of a world beyond our own?

Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin

The committee was divided, and while you may not be familiar with most of its members, you have almost certainly heard of the paranormal investigator — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Arthur Conan Doyle believed that his own wife, Jean, was able to channel spirits at seances Credit: Alamy. The creator of Sherlock Holmes declared that he was highly impressed with the clairvoyant demonstration, although he said he would need to see the ghost again before he would attest to its paranormality.

Today, Conan Doyle is best known for his detective stories, but the good doctor was also an illustrious paranormal investigator who often failed to see the frauds in front of his eyes. He famously fell for the photographs of the Cottingley Fairies, for instance, faked by two children — Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright. As a spiritualist, Conan Doyle also asserted that he witnessed mediums make direct contact with the spirits of the dead. The case of the "Masked Medium" was ultimately revealed to be hoax. As an experimental psychologist and magician, however, I believe it is one of two hoaxes that can offer special insight into Conan Doyle's apparent credulity and also some fascinating cognitive illusions that may sometimes affect us all.

Each case involved the activities of magicians. Unlike the spiritualist mediums, they saw themselves as "honest deceivers" who performed illusions for entertainment, and their audiences were fully expected to understand the fact that they were witnessing carefully constructed tricks. Many magicians — including one of Conan Doyle's own friends, Harry Houdini — were staunch sceptics of the paranormal. Some even took it upon themselves to actively expose fraudulent mediums, both as a public service and as a means of self-promotion.

The first case I have in mind involves a magician named William S Marriott. When not performing stage magic under the name Dr Wilmar, Marriott worked prolifically to debunk the methods of fraudulent mediums. He investigated a variety of paranormal phenomena including apparitions, spirit writing and thought reading.

Marriott was particularly concerned with spirit photography — the claim that images of the spirits of the dead could be captured on film. While spiritualists such as Conan Doyle acknowledged that the photographs could be faked, they hoped that by strictly controlling the process of taking and developing the photographs, trickery could be scientifically ruled out. The argument was similar to Holmes' maxim: "When you have eliminated all which is impossible, then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.

On 5 December , Marriott set out to demonstrate that eliminating the impossible was much more difficult than Conan Doyle might have wished to believe. His plan was to invite Conan Doyle and three other witnesses to observe him as he took and developed photographs of the great writer.

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The committee carefully examined the camera and watched as Marriott took two photographs of Conan Doyle. The witnesses, including an expert photographer, confirmed that they had watched Marriott closely and had seen no indication that the magician was doing anything other than going through the normal process of developing photographs.

Nevertheless, when the photographs were developed, the first included a translucent ghostly figure and the second featured a ring of dancing sprites, neither of which had been observed in the room when the photos were taken. Marriott's choice to include fairies was presumably a dig at Conan Doyle's famous endorsement of the Cottingley Fairies photographs. The Sunday Express newspaper in the UK gleefully published both the images, emphasising the "ghost-like intruder" and Conan Doyle's "favorite fairies".


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Conan Doyle was characteristically affable about the proceedings and was pleased to have the fairy photo as a souvenir. He wrote: "Mr Marriott has clearly proved a point that a trained conjurer can, under close inspection of three critical pairs of eyes put a false impression upon a plate. We must unreservedly admit it. But he continued to explain that his faith in spirit photography remained unshaken.

The mediums Conan Doyle trusted to produce real spirit photographs, in contrast had hands that were "short, thick and work stained". Mediums often relied on ingenious tricks - and an intuitive understanding of the mind's illusions - to fool attendees Credit: Alamy. The case of the "Masked Medium" represents an even more dramatic example of Conan Doyle's will to believe.

Rather than witnessing images on plates, this scenario involved a live demonstration, orchestrated by a pair of performers. The host of the event was actually a stage magician by the name of Percy Thomas Tibbles, who performed as P.

Selbit, and the medium was an aspiring female illusionist named Molly Wynter, who had developed a specialisation in fraudulent medium tricks. Wynter was presented as a genuine medium with Selbit acting as her manager. As Wynter identified the items in the locked box, and the ghost "materialised" in front of the audience, there was no indication that the audience were witnessing an elaborate trick — and it was only afterwards that the magician and illusionist explained their methods.

Although the committee believed they watched the box with their objects the entire time, the box was switched so that Wynter was left holding a dummy box while an assistant in the other room opened up the actual box and broadcast its contents into her earpiece.

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The "materialisation", meanwhile, was accomplished not by ectoplasm, but by another secret assistant. An acrobat, dressed entirely in black tights, scaled the building and entered through a window after the committee had completed their search of the room. According to the magicians, "the ghost" was a bit of gauze coated with phosphorescent paint that the acrobat removed from their pocket and waved around the room. To confirm their point, the illusionists repeated their demonstration before an even larger committee.

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And this is where Conan Doyle's reaction gets particularly interesting — he doubled down on his mistaken belief. He was sceptical of the sceptical explanation. Perhaps the magicians really were psychic, he said, but were simply lying about their paranormal powers. He went on to rail against the media coverage of the demonstration.


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