Cuba Libre, by Elmore Leonard


Historical fiction from Elmore Leonard may seem a surprising change of direction from his thrillers set in the present, but in a sense it is a return to his roots writing cowboy pulps.  His 1998 Cuba Libre is set in Cuba precisely a century before it was published, just prior to and during the Spanish-American war.  A Cuban peasantry suffering under brutal Spanish oppression and a United States eager to turn the situation to its own advantage constitute the backdrop to an adventure story as Ben Tyler arrives with his business partner Charlie three days after the US battleship Maine sank in Havana Harbour to sell horses to wealthy sugar baron, landowner and entrepreneur Rollie Boudreaux.

Ben had spent a summer on the island when he was nine because his father had managed a sugar mill, so he feels some connection to the place.  For his part, it is useful to Charlie having someone along who knows Cuba and can use his initiative.  That is because horses are not all that Ben and Charlie are importing; Ben works out that Charlie must have a side-line in smuggled guns hidden with the livestock, intended for Cuban insurgents fighting for their independence.  Horseflesh can make a better price in Cuba than in the US, but only if corners are cut on the import duty.  It’s a small margin and the guns achieve a bigger one, as long as one doesn’t get caught.

Tyler is an archetypal Leonard character, a basically decent man who reacts strongly to situations he deems unfair.  Such had been the case when he could not collect money owed to him by a mining company, so he stole, or in his eyes withdrew by force, what he was owed from the company’s bank.  The simplicity of the transaction had rather gave him a taste for robbing banks, though as he discovered there was a downside as it led to a prison term in Yuma.  In Cuba he finds himself in a similar position to the one with the mining company when Rollie, woefully underestimating him, cheats on the horse deal.  Making life further complicated, Ben and Rollie’s mistress, Amelia, fall deeply in love.

Then Ben comes up against brutal Spanish colonialists, the Dons.  He manages to cross ruthless officer Lionel Tavalera, who has been fighting the insurgents and doesn’t have much time for American gun-runners either.  To add to Ben’s problems he finds himself in prison after shooting a trouble-seeking Guardia Civil in self-defence.  While he and Charlie are conveniently incarcerated the authorities vainly try to locate the ship with the guns.  The execution of Charlie does not sweeten Ben’s temper, however he is sprung from prison, falls in with the guerrillas, and becomes part of a hoax kidnapping of Amelia to collect $40,000 from Rollie with which to supply the rebellion.  If possible the plot gets thicker as everybody decides they want the money for themselves while the inevitable war between Spain and the vastly superior US military looms ever-closer.

The characters are fairly standard Leonard fare.  With the possible exception of Ben everyone is mercenary about money – Amelia, members of the business community, the military, even Cubans fighting the Spanish.  Ben is more principled but still happy to go along with Amelia’s plans for her sake.  Their sudden falling in love doesn’t ring quite true; there is a hint that she is enthralled by his bank-robbing past, but the depth of her sudden attachment is hard to credit.  The villains, notably Tavelera, are drawn with greater depth, and the ambivalence of the Cuban patriots towards the coming war, hating the Spanish but mistrustful of the Americans, torn between a desire for independence and self-interest, is nicely brought out.

The historical background is well researched though Leonard often cannot resist shoe-horning slabs of it in, as if to display his credentials as a serious novelist, using Neely of the Chicago Tribune as his mouthpiece.  He does try to set right some of the myths, such as showing that Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders were not quite the efficient military machine of legend but in fact a bunch of hapless amateurs who had to be rescued at San Juan Heights by a regiment of black regular soldiers.  Above all he tackles American cynicism in taking on for its own enrichment a feeble Spain in a fight it couldn’t lose, such as airing the modern-sounding conspiracy theory that the Americans blew up the Maine themselves to provoke the war and take control of Spanish overseas interests.  Whether it was an accident, the Spanish were exceptionally stupid, or it was a false flag operation, it all worked out well for the US, as it does for Ben and Amelia.

Georgiana Houghton: Spirit Drawings, by Simon Grant, Lars Bang Larsen and Marco Pasi


Georgiana Houghton: Spirit Drawings is a catalogue produced to accompany the exhibition devoted to Georgiana Houghton’s drawings held at the Courtauld Gallery this summer, curated by Simon Grant, Lars bang Larsen and Marco Pasi.  Houghton (1818-84) was a dedicated Spiritualist in London who took up drawing in watercolour and ink as a means to bridge the gap between the living and the afterlife, making one explicable to the other.  She was in effect a landscapist of a higher plane.  The results are astonishing, and the catalogue’s major pleasure is in the reproductions of a number of her watercolours.

In their accompanying essay ‘“Works of art without parallel in the world”: Georgiana Houghton’s Spirit Drawings’, Grant and Pasi provide an informative overview of Houghton’s life, the development of the Spiritualist movement, and her growing involvement in it following the death of her sister Zilla.  Houghton began experimenting with drawing in 1861; her early works are more figurative, appearing to be botanical studies, though they do not represent concrete reality but are symbolic character analyses, depicting flowers and fruits within the spirit realm that express a person’s life, character and thoughts.

Quickly the linkage between recognisable objects and her flowing style is broken as she moved into non-representational drawing, ‘sacred symbolism’ as she termed it, swirls of colour, lines and dots formed in sinuous patterns which are always controlled, never wild.  If they are aesthetically pleasing, Houghton would have argued that this reflects the spirit world’s harmony.  Many of the titles she gave them refer to God and Jesus, others to living individuals: family, friends and notables, including royalty.  The single representational exception to her new direction is the December 1862 The Portrait of the Lord Jesus Christ, startling because He looks remarkably like a woman sporting a hipster beard, a likeness communicated through Houghton by St Luke.

The drawings’ backs contain information such as a title, date, and the length of time it took to complete, and lengthy and glosses on some to guide the viewer, automatically received by Houghton from an impressive range of spirit helpers.  The commentaries are not adjuncts, rather they are integral to the work as a whole; as Grant and Pasi suggest, such a symbiotic relationship between word and image is reminiscent of William Blake, an important figure in Spiritualism’s pre-history.  Thus we know Houghton was guided by individuals including famous painters such as Titian and Correggio, and the less famous one Sir Thomas Lawrence, all working in a style completely dissimilar to what they were doing while incarnate.  There was the obscure, such as Henry Lenny, and a grander group of archangels and Biblical characters.  She claimed she could draw while holding a conversation, to reinforce the claim that these were not originating in her conscious mind.

Unlike the bulk of art made with a Spiritualist motivation, Houghton was keen to bring her productions to a wider public and in 1871 she took the bold step of funding an exhibition at the New British Gallery in Old Bond Street, where she exhibited 155 drawings for almost four months.  She was on hand nearly every day to engage with visitors and promote the cause.  Sadly her efforts in mounting and promoting the exhibition met with limited success.  Some reviewers were hostile, but Houghton was impervious, at least in print, arguing with justification that as her works stood outside conventional canons of art, the vocabulary normally used to assess pictures could not apply to hers.  Other reviewers were more positive, though they assessed what they saw either in terms of harmony of form or by analogy with the natural world’s complexities, rather than the spiritual content.  She sold only one piece, and the enterprise nearly bankrupted her.  Yet as Grant and Pasi say, in a real sense it was a success because it brought her work to a wide audience in a gallery setting, and validated her identity as an artist (which she described herself as in the 1871 and 1881 censuses).

The Courtauld show was the first public exhibition of her drawings since then, though on a greatly reduced scale.  That is because posterity has not been kind to Houghton’s output.  The Victorian Spiritualists’ Union in Melbourne has 35, though how they ended up there is unclear.  An album containing seven is held at the College of Psychic Studies (CPS) in London.  Another four are in private hands.  Those are all that is left, under a third of those she is known to have produced (as indicated by the number displayed in 1871), plus the unknown quantity she did afterwards.  Hopefully the exhibition’s publicity and the book will cause collectors and institutions to examine their holdings, and further works may come to light.

Grant and Pasi claim she had been forgotten after her death and her drawings ignored until recently, a situation the exhibition and book were designed to rectify.  This neglect is certainly true regarding the drawings, though her involvement in spirit photography had kept her name alive to a certain extent.  Grant and Pasi touch lightly on her involvement with photographer Frederick Hudson at the end of their essay, but prior to the rediscovery of her drawings her 1882 book Chronicles of the Photographs of Spiritual Beings and Phenomena Invisible to the Material Eye Interblended with Personal Narrative had been an important source of information for scholars of spirit photography, and its six plates have been widely reproduced.

A second essay, by Larsen and Pasi, ‘Spectres of Art’, is more abstract than Grant and Pasi’s introduction, bringing in references to Theodor Adorno and Jacques Derrida.  The authors make the intriguing point that a romantic view of creativity considers artistic inspiration to be outside norms of rationality, so why was what Houghton and others of that ilk did treated differently, and deemed to be of lesser value?  Unfortunately, to answer the question their essay veers off into a discussion about Nazism and the occult as expressions of irrational elements within capitalism, and the renewed interest in paranormal subjects within the ‘media mainstream’ today both as compensatory consolation for our alienated state and as an expression of countercultural trends which have existed since the 1960s: we live in haunted times, and so on.

Thankfully they eventually move on, noting that what has survived – or been identified – is a tiny fraction of what must have been produced, considering the number of references to be found in the Spiritualist press.  They ask if spirit art has any cultural value outside the confines of the Spiritualist community.  While not true to say it has been ignored entirely by the wider ‘cultural establishment’, they concede that little attention has been paid to it, and apart from examples held by organisations such as the CPS and the Victorian Spiritualists’ Union in Australia, most has been gathered into collections of outsider art.  They consider the concept of outsider art (art brut) to be a useful way to consider spirit art in general.  But as they continue, we know Houghton had had some training as an artist, so while her work may previously have been exhibited in an outsider art context in recent years, the label obfuscates as much as it illuminates.  I would add that to categorise her in outsider terms says more about the art world’s structures and economics than about spirit art’s place in the wider field of artistic creation.

It also means that Houghton’s productions have been largely pigeon-holed (but her motivation ignored).by the art world as examples of abstraction, or as eccentric products by a middle-aged spinster disengaged from the real world in a delusional pastime, rather than the sincere expression of her spiritual values.  In terms of both categories, Larsen and Pasi compare Houghton with Hilma af Klimt, herself the subject of recent interest, but find the notion of ‘anticipation of abstraction’ to be problematic, both because it implies an outdated idea of a steady progression of artistic development, and also because abstract artists such as Kandinsky theorised their practice in a way Houghton and Klimt did not.  However, for Houghton her drawings were not abstract but neither were they untheorised; they were concrete realisations of the spirit world as she tried to find expression for what is ineffable.  Contemporary artists may tip the hat to people like Houghton and Klimt and draw on (or plunder if you prefer) Spiritualism in their own work, but they do it from the outside, which may allow them to repurpose the form, but to use it to address aspects of this world, not as a link between this world and the next.

Ultimately, the Courtauld exhibition provided a contrast in purpose with the 1871 display.  For Houghton it was an opportunity to promote her belief in a spiritual reality for which the drawings were produced as evidence.  The objects were secondary to the message.  For the Courtauld Gallery, according to the foreword by its head, Ernst Vegelin van Claerbergen, ‘this exhibition forms part of a strand of programming that concerns itself with alternative histories of drawing.’  Here the intended message is secondary to the objects.  Whatever one’s perspective, it was a pleasure to visit the Courtauld, busy on the afternoon I attended, for a probably unique opportunity to see works that had made the long journey from their home in Australia back to London where they were produced.  There were 21 paintings dating from 1861 to 1875, drawn from the collections of the Victorian Spiritualists’ Union, the CPS, and one from a private owner, and these are reproduced in the catalogue.

No exhibition is complete without a marketing effort, and the Courtauld Gallery did a good job, aided by the beauty of Houghton’s work (cards are also available at the CPS).  You could buy Houghton-themed postcards, prints, greeting cards, tea towels, jewellery, and a tote bag to put it all in.  Such enterprise is necessary to support the institutions who care for and display archival material, and this way more people are exposed to Houghton’s drawings than she could ever have dreamed of; but it is ironic that pictures considered to have no monetary value during her lifetime, as witness the failure of her exhibition, should now represent a useful income stream for others.

For those unfortunate enough not to have been able to see the originals at the Courtauld, the book accompanying the exhibition is the next best thing, though it is not a complete survey of Houghton’s oeuvre.  The densely-written texts on the back, also reproduced, are hard to read and would have benefited from typed transcriptions.  What would be helpful now in understanding Houghton’s work and the context from which it emerged is a greater awareness of the history of spirit art in general.  The recent exhibition at the CPS was a good start, but perhaps there is scope to do for art what Le troisième oeil: La photographie et l’occulte (The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult) did for photography, in terms of a touring exhibition and accompanying lavishly-illustrated large format book.

Border and Bastille, by George Alfred Lawrence


George Alfred Lawrence (1827-76) was an English writer who travelled to North America during the Civil War/War between the States in a bid to join the Confederate Army of Virginia.  At first sight he did not seem prime military material: he had abandoned a career as a barrister for literature and made his mark as a novelist with Guy Livingstone (1857).  Published in 1863, Border and Bastille is part travelogue, part commentary on the war, part moan about his misadventures.  Setting off from England in the autumn of 1862, he describes his journey across the Atlantic to New York and his efforts to break through the Northern blockade to reach Confederate States territory.  His repeated attempts were frustrated as one plan after another went awry, and in Dantean fashion he found himself back in Baltimore at frequent intervals.  He managed to penetrate as far as Maryland when his expedition was abruptly terminated one night at the hands of a trio of civilian pickets who shot him in the knee and killed his horse.

The result of his arrest was that he was transported to Washington where he was imprisoned for two months.  He was released after he signed an undertaking in June 1863 to leave the United States forthwith and not return for the duration of the ‘existing rebellion’.  He readily complied with the terms as his financial and physical resources had been drained, glad to shake Federal dust from his heels.  During his confinement he had begun drafting this book, which allowed its speedy publication shortly after his return to England, having completed it while recovering in Devon.

He had joined the militia in England, and does consider himself a good judge of horseflesh, but he does not specify what he thought he could have offered the Confederate cause in person, ‘pen-work or handiwork’ being as precise as he gets.  His sympathies are clearly with the South, however opportunities for adventure and a book describing it appear to have been the primary motives.  He also had a deal with the Morning Post to send reports once in Confederate territory, so this agreement was never implemented (Charlotte Mitchell’s entry on Lawrence in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states that William Tinsley, who published Border and Bastille, claimed later that Lawrence had been sent out as a correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, but this is not mentioned in the book, only the Post arrangement).  Lawrence got his book out of it, though it seems doubtful that sales covered his costs as these must have been considerable, not least in the purchase of horses.

Perhaps he saw an element of the plucky underdog in the Confederates missing in the Unionists that appealed to him, the former fighting for ‘freedom’, the latter for ‘subjugation’ (though it was the South’s freedom to subjugate its slave population, and the North’s subjugation of that freedom to subjugate, which was at stake).   He is frequently dismissive of the North, though he has positive things to say about some of the individuals he met there, expressing contempt for the press and many of the politicians.  His description of life in Washington DC and the characters he met there bear similarities with the satirical portions of Charles Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit set in America, and it is fair to say Lawrence was unimpressed with the Northern capital.

The final 50 pages move away from his abortive trip to examine aspects of the war.  A chapter presents an analysis of the Unionist military and its prospects for victory.  Naturally he has strong reservations about its leadership, organisation and tactics, contrasting them unfavourably with those of the Confederacy.  At the time he was writing the latter was still holding its own; an upbeat Lawrence notes its successes, alongside reverses suffered by its adversary and failures to press home advantages.  A further chapter looks at the issue of the border states, particularly Maryland, how varying attitudes to secession within its population were affecting the balance of power between the two combatants, and the risks border states ran in declaring for the Confederacy.

The conclusion, after indicating the North’s advantages in population and resources, gets down to the matter, not touched on previously, of Lawrence’s attitude to slavery.  As is to be expected, he finds points in its favour.  Agriculture in the South can only be maintained by black labour, and as they are naturally lazy, without compulsion productivity would decline to subsistence level.  Slavery, he feels, is an economic necessity transcending moral justification.  He suggests that in any case, blacks in the North are not particularly well treated.  Most surprisingly, he claims ‘the ordinary slave-rations far exceed, both in quantity and quality, the Sunday meal of an English West-country labourer; and that the comforts of all the aged and infirm, whom the master is, of course, obliged to maintain, are infinitely superior to those enjoyed by the like inmates of our most lenient workhouses.’  That doesn’t say much for the standard of living of West country labourers or workhouse inmates, but it implies a first-hand familiarity with the conditions of slaves which Lawrence did not possess.  He believes that in their childish simplicity they are better off as things stand, because freedom would turn happy individuals into sullen ones.  Here any notion of Lawrence as a high-minded adherent of a romantic attachment to Southern chivalry and desire for self-determination is dissolved into racism based on his belief in the inferiority of non-whites.

He sums up by stating that whatever the outcome, there could not, except by complete subjugation of the South, be unity between North and ‘Secessia’, and never amity, as antagonism will run too deep after the brutality of the conflict and is based on long-standing historical developments.  Worse, by trying to enforce its will, the North is laying open the contradiction between union and state loyalty, and may create opposition within its own borders to what is seen as a corrupt federal tyranny.  Apparently there were suggestions that a method of uniting the two sides would be to find a common enemy, notably Britain or France, with Canada or Mexico as the prize (this was the period of the ill-fated Second Mexican Empire backed by the French).  Lawrence is sniffy about prospects for such a plan, firstly on the grounds that not all Southern states would be willing to participate, secondly because the forces of ’Federalia’ would not be up to it militarily, and if they tried to cross their northern border they would soon change their minds about the plan’s merits.  He concludes by characterising Northern ambitions as economic and territorial, by states that can hardly be characterised as a nation because of their admixture from various European countries.  The South on the other hand is relatively homogeneous; it may be numerically smaller, but ‘Anglo-Saxon blood flows almost untainted’ in its veins, and it is fighting not for expansion of territory but for liberty.  The black population is entirely absent from his analysis.

The Lincoln Hunters, by Wilson Tucker


Wilson Tucker’s short 1958 novel The Lincoln Hunters is set in 2578.  Society has emerged from a fractured past which has seen revolution and the replacement of democracy in the United States with an autocratic emperor.  Life expectancy has been extended to as much as 200 years, but there is rationing, and anybody who is unemployed is forcibly conscripted for what is essentially slave labour.  In the upheavals preceding this new stability much of the historical record was lost and only a hazy knowledge of the past exists.  The plot concerns a Cleveland-based corporation, Time Researchers, which has a monopoly on time travel into the past and uses the technology to send individuals, known as Characters – hired for their ability to blend in – on trips to research events for wealthy clients and if required retrieve artefacts.

The novel opens with Amos Peabody, curator of a museum that relies on the retrieval of lost material from the past, commissioning Time Researchers to go back 700 years to recover a lost speech Abraham Lincoln gave on 19 May 1856 in Bloomington, Illinois.  This was the beginning of the Republican Party, but the speech was not transcribed.  Peabody particularly requests that the mission be led by Benjamin Steward, an experienced time traveller.  Many of the Characters regard the people in the periods they are sent to as no more than the dead they will become, but Ben has a keen sense of history, enjoys it, and appreciates the freshness and potential of the different times he visits.  He is aware of the faults of the mid-nineteenth century, but conscious that there is more scope for personal initiative than there is in his own time.  Unfortunately he had been involved in a disastrous expedition to ancient Rome when a colleague had been hacked to death, and a further black mark in his file could curtail his employment with the organisation.

The 1850s should be a routine assignment, but things go wrong from the start when the engineers manage to send Ben, on his solo reconnaissance, to a day later than the target date.  He is disturbed to find a piece of recording wire lying in rubbish, and meet a man who already knows him and displays hostility.  Something bad appears to have occurred, but he cannot determine what.  Returning to his own time, he selects three Characters to accompany him on the mission, but one, Bloch, is an unreliable alcoholic under a great deal of stress.  His brother had become unemployed and been forced into a government labour scheme, the irony being that he is effectively a slave in the 26th century, while Ben and company are attending a meeting which will be debating slavery and its abolition in the 19th.  The main expedition goes to the right day and a recording of Lincoln’s speech is secured, but Bloch has disappeared and Ben needs to track him down, with the clock ticking to the point when Ben will arrive on his recce.

That is critical because of the problem of what would happen if the same person met him- or herself: could they co-exist or would they cancel each other out and vanish.  The theory is they would both cease to be, but when he inevitably overstays, only the Ben who has just arrived for the reconnaissance shot is extinguished (the implications, would the company have sent the main mission when Ben failed to return from his first trip for instance, or even how anything described after it could have taken place, are not considered by Tucker).   The assumption, hitherto untested, that such an event would cancel out both versions gives the surviving Ben and Bloch, now deemed to be dead ‘back home’, an opportunity to shake the sterile world of 2578 from their very muddy boots, and make their way in the rather more exciting world of 1856; an unsurprising conclusion given the continual emphasis on Ben’s feeling of kinship with it.

Tucker makes some oblique but telling points about his own society.  Peabody’s initial walk to the Time Researchers’ building allows Tucker to paint a decadent future, but resonating with the twentieth century United States.  Youngsters adopt outlandish fashions (as ancient Egyptian styles are trendy, women are virtually topless) and are unwilling to go anywhere except by car; a pedestrian is an eccentric.  Like today, information has a monetary value and it is in Time Researchers’ interest to restrict it, as monopolies do; hence forays into the past, being client-driven, are unsystematic.  There is a suggestion that we view the past through the lens of the present, and this is influenced ideologically to support the status quo: the emperor rules over a territory divided into city-states, and Time Researchers’ analysts assume this is how the early United States was organised, so rather than Bloomington, where the 1856 convention was held, being the city of Bloomington in the state of Illinois, it is thought of as the city state Bloomington-Illinois.

The novel challenges a liberal view that progress will be gradual but unceasing.  Because much of history has been lost, the imperial regime can claim it represents a novel approach to political problems, whereas actually it is a type that has been tried often before but which its subjects are not in a position to contrast with alternative forms of governance.  A lengthy example of the possibilities for history to be manipulated by those in charge is given in the account of how Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II disastrously lost the Battle of Kadesh to the Hittite Muwatalli II but proclaimed a magnificent victory anyway.  He inaugurated a ‘great lie’, to the extent that for thousands of years it was believed, until Time Researchers uncovered the truth of the scale of the Egyptian defeat.  Spin in politics is nothing new, and will doubtless still be going on in 2578.

The Lincoln Hunters is an enjoyable stab at a time-travel novel, but unsophisticated compared to, say, the mind-bending but logical multiple loops in The Time Traveler’s Wife.

Blood and Champagne: The Life and Times of Robert Capa, by Alex Kershaw


Alex Kershaw’s 2002 biography tells how Andre Friedmann, born in Budapest in 1913, reinvented himself as debonair photojournalist adventurer Robert Capa (there have been various suggestions why he chose the surname, including its similarity to Frank Capra’s, but apparently it was a childhood nickname, meaning ‘shark’).  During his short life he covered some of the most significant moments in the twentieth century’s dark history.  Even as a teenager he found himself in difficult situations: in trouble with the repressive Horthy regime in Hungary, he moved to Berlin in 1931 where he discovered photography and began to earn a precarious living from his camera.  Unfortunately for a Jew, Berlin in the 1930s was not a good place to be and the Nazi regime’s establishment prompted a further move to Paris.  These early years set the pattern of a peripatetic life which saw Capa restlessly moving from place to place.

He made his name in Spain, covered Chinese resistance to Japan, the Second World War (most famously photographing the D-Day invasion at Omaha Beach) and finally French attempts to maintain control in Indo-China, dying there in 1954 by stepping on a landmine.  The only big conflict he did not cover was Korea.  He also co-founded the Magnum agency in 1947 to protect photographers from exploitation by publishers, allowing them to retain control over their work.  He found time to collaborate with John Steinbeck, visiting the Soviet Union for a book; and with Irwin Shaw, co-producing a book on the struggles of the nascent Israeli state; to drink with (and fall out with) Ernest Hemingway, play poker with John Huston (while Burl Ives serenaded with a guitar, according to one photograph here), have a significant relationship with Ingrid Bergman, and far less significant ones with many other women.

The facts of Capa’s life are well known and are elegantly covered by Kershaw, but the portrait he draws from them is insightful.  We see someone who was capable of great charm, and who capitalised on it.  He made friends easily and women it seems found him irresistible.  The attraction was mutual and he possessed a significant sex drive, yet refused to make commitments. He was not a man of great introspection, was easily bored, and was a compulsive gambler – at one point he was described as essentially a gambler with a side-line in photography – which meant he would never be comfortably off.  And he pilfered books from homes he stayed in.

Kershaw considers that after a decade covering Spain and the World War, Capa was suffering from PTSD.  It may well have been true, but does not completely explain defects in his character.  Much is made of the loss of his lover Gerda Taro in the Spanish Civil War, and the devastation is this caused him, but he had been happy to have her photographs appear under his name; she constantly struggled to get out from his shadow as a photographer.  His behaviour after her death may have been risky, though her loss was not necessarily the cause – he had an addictive personality that would probably have manifested in risk-taking even had she lived.

He could be disloyal to his friends too.  When he had problems renewing his US passport in 1952 (he had become a US citizen in 1946), on the grounds he was under suspicion of being a communist, he was willing to name names to the passport authority in an effort to clear himself.  That included declaring Joris Ivens, for whom Capa had worked on a film in China, as ‘probably a communist’, a deplorable accusation to make at that time; charitably, perhaps he felt it was a safe accusation to make as Ivens’s views were well known and he had already left the United States.  Whatever the usefulness or otherwise of his information, he got his new passport.

Henri Cartier-Bresson’s insights are illuminating.  He saw Capa as an ‘anarchist’ and ‘romantic’, ‘but not a photographer of outstanding intellect … not primarily a vision man, he was an adventurer with a tremendous sense of life…’  Cartier-Bresson was not dismissing Capa as stupid, rather describing someone who approached his craft at an instinctual rather than cerebral level (unlike Cartier-Bresson himself is the clear implication).  Kershaw notes that Capa was ‘surprisingly limited in his technical range’ but possessed ‘an uncanny ability to focus his camera at exactly the right moment’ (the decisive moment, one might say), putting Capa closer to Cartier-Bresson than the latter for all their differences might have wanted to acknowledge.

Kershaw managed to interview a number of people who knew Capa, and was assiduous in trawling archives to produce this elegant biography.  Unfortunately there are no photographs by Capa himself as his estate withheld permission.  Why this should be is not specified other than that the book was ’unauhthorised’.  It may be because Kershaw does not shy away from exploring Capa’s defects.  Another bone of contention may have been the scrutiny of Capa’s famous ‘falling man’ image, apparently showing a loyalist militiaman at the point of death in the Spanish Civil War.  The chapter airs the dispute over its authenticity – whether or not it was staged, whether it captured a man who has just been shot or is merely falling over – with clarity and even-handedness.  However, as Kershaw pointedly states, ‘To question its authenticity is to earn the undying ire of eighty-three-year-old Cornell Capa, who controls his brother’s estate and has spent many years fiercely defending his brother’s legend.’

That Kershaw uses the word legend suggests Cornell was less concerned with establishing truth than perpetuating myth, and it is reasonable to assume he would not have welcomed an analysis casting doubt on the photograph.  One dreads to think what a biography authorised by him, in which its author was obliged to promote the legend, would have looked like.  Fortunately Capa’s output is readily available elsewhere, not least Phaidon’s magnificent coffee-table book Robert Capa: The Definitive Collection, a project Cornell was involved in, and Kershaw’s book is not damaged by its absence.

There are a few odd moments in the text, let through due to careless editing.  For example, Kershaw states that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour occurred on 6 December 1941, whereas it was 7 December.  The ‘remarkable anti-fascist philosopher’ Capa met on Capri was Benedetto Croce, not Groce.  But the strangest one is the implication that when Capa and Steinbeck visited Stalingrad (now Volgograd), it was in Ukraine.  Such slips notwithstanding, this is an engaging, insightful and page-turning portrait of a flawed individual who nevertheless produced one of the most significant bodies of photography in the twentieth century.

Capa became a role model whose dictum ‘if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough’ has proved extremely influential.  It is remarkable to think he was only 41 when he died, having lived several lifetimes.  He was not always blessed with precognitive abilities: he was surprisingly pessimistic about the prospects for documentary photography towards the end of his life, feeling television would take over its function.  Fortunately his prediction has not come to pass and photographers still have the capacity to inform, amaze and move us. Kershaw’s verdict is that Capa revealed ‘the purity of the human spirit’: a man who said he hated violence and hated war shows the effects of both unflinchingly, but his humanity always shines through.

Various novels by Georges Simenon

A Mans head cvr

A Man’s Head [La Tête d’un homme], 1931
My Friend Maigret [Mon ami Maigret], 1949
The Man on the Boulevard [Maigret et l’homme du banc], 1953
Account Unsettled [Crime impuni], 1954


A Man’s Head

A Man’s Head [La Tête d’un homme] is an early novel by Georges Simenon from 1931, but already the familiar tropes are in place: the unshowy workaholic detective, who rarely sees his wife, solving crimes by a blend of dogged determination and inspiration that doesn’t always make him popular with his superiors but gets the job done.   Down these mean streets a man must go, but while Maigret may be a little tarnished he is not afraid, nor on the whole mean, even when the pressure threatens to beat him down, though he can get a little curt.  He is an unsentimental man with a firm moral code, willing to bend the rules in pursuit of justice but always with an innate sense of compassion.

In this instance he is convinced that a prisoner who has been convicted of murder following Maigret’s own investigation is in fact innocent so he arranges for the man to escape.  He wants to see where the trail leads, even at the risk of his own career should the escapee elude him.  The events from this rash act unfold in a novella that evokes the life of interwar Montparnasse, its streets and bars mixing bohemians, lowlifes and lively expatriates, a melting pot that gave the city its distinctive personality in the period.

Simenon has a loyal band of followers, and it is easy to see why.  Maigret comes to seem like an old friend, and the Paris depicted has a comfortable feel.  A Man’s Head is an undemanding read, and the action moves quickly.  The cinematic opening throws the reader into the action, showing the escape before filling in the preceding events.  The focus on the psychopathology of the murderer is a departure from the usual emphasis of detective fiction in the period on whodunnit.  Even when it is clear who was responsible for the crimes the reader is still kept guessing how they were achieved.

Dropped into the story is a reference to a real murder case, an unusual ploy for a writer of detective fiction, especially at this period.  What is even more unusual is the source.  Maigret is asked if he remembers reading about the ‘Taylor case’, a reference to the murder of film director William Desmond Taylor in 1922: ‘But I don’t suppose you do, as you probably don’t read the American papers.’  Simenon clearly read them because he then paraphrases a paragraph near the beginning of an article by Ed C. King, ‘I Know Who Killed Desmond Taylor’, which was published in True Detective Mysteries in 1930.  Knowing who committed a crime, Maigret is being told, is not the same as proving it.

While there are pleasures to be had, the pace tends to obscure the weaknesses of Simenon’s style.  The supporting characters are generally sketchy and there are some weaknesses in the plot, particularly a rather convenient suicide Maigret’s lengthy concluding explanation glides over.  How he comes to realise who the murderer really is depends on a fluke of timing, and there is an unrealistic amount of following where those being tailed are oblivious of the fact.  It’s enjoyable, but one suspects that had Simenon spent longer developing his stories they would have been even better.

(11 August 2014)


My Friend Maigret

We associate Maigret with rainy Parisian streets, and Simenon’s 1949 My Friend Maigret [Mon ami Maigret] starts off in conventional style, the rain beating down in an unseasonably cold spring.  But the scene soon shifts to the sunny Mediterranean, the island of Porquerolles a couple of miles from the French coast off Toulon.  So what drags Maigret so far from his usual beat?  A lowlife, Marcellin, who had known him in the past in a professional capacity, had been murdered.  What created the connection to Maigret was that shortly before his death Marcellin had been boasting in a somewhat exaggerated fashion about ‘my friend Maigret’ in a hotel bar.  Friendship was putting it far too strongly, so it was a puzzle why he said it, and why anybody would want to kill him for it.  Maigret goes south to try to find out the reason, and get away from the perpetual Parisian drizzle at the same time.

In contrast to the wet cold city, Porquerolles has a warm languid climate that Maigret finds has an adverse effect on him.  It is an enervating atmosphere which makes thought harder than in a colder environment, a lazy place guaranteed to sap energy and ambition.  The island is home to a mixed bunch of inhabitants, some permanent, others seasonal.  There are contrasts between the native French population, the expats who help to keep the economy going, and the low-value Sunday day-trippers from the mainland who leave their empty bottles and sardine tins on the beach before heading back on the five o’clock ferry.

Among the semi-permanent residents is Mrs Wilcox, an aging English ex-socialite whose family will not allow her to return to her own country and whose yacht is anchored in the harbour.  She is accompanied by her male factotum Philippe whom she bullies and who it transpires provides a wider range of services than one might at first assume from a member of staff.  Also living on a boat is a young Dutch painter, along with his impressionable teenage girlfriend he had enticed away from her good family.

Permanently resident on the island is Justine, a brothel owner with a string of establishments on the mainland who does her business by telephone, her son Emile who is tied to her apron strings, and a retired British Indian Army major.  Someone already known to Maigret is Ginette, a prostitute Maigret had known in Paris and had helped escape from Marcellin, now running one of Justine’s brothels and with an eye on marrying the semi-invalid Emile.  And there is Charlot, living on the margin of legality with his gaming machines, who likes to think he has his finger on the pulse and is competing with Maigret to fathom the mystery of the murder.  There does not seem to be much in the way of a motive for any of them to bump off someone who existed barely above the level of a beach bum.

Complicating Maigret’s mission is the Scotland Yard inspector, Pyke, who has been assigned to him for a ‘study tour’ to learn the famous detective’s methods.  This crimps Maigret’s style somewhat as it turns out he has something of an inferiority complex where his enigmatic English colleague is concerned.  Used to relying on intuition, he finds he becomes self-conscious when he is being observed, wondering all the time how he is being perceived.  He is determined to share all information with Pyke to ensure it cannot be said that somehow he cheated in solving the crime, but he is constrained in his usual approach, which is to talk to people and get a feel for their characters, have his subordinates ferret out useful information, drink a great deal and let the lot marinade until the solution presents itself.

He tries a more conventional line but eventually reverts to his trusty intuition, aided by information provided by his office in Paris and by a particularly nosy postmistress who listens in on the telephone during calls.  The solution is mainly arrived at by wandering about and chatting, which if truth be told is not that far from the way he operates in Paris.  Once Maigret has uncovered the reason for the murder and identified the culprits involved in the events leading to it, a resolution involving some unsubtle psychological pressure of which he is sure the Englishman disapproves, he says Mr Pyke will be disappointed to learn that in fact he has no method.  But of course he does have one, though not one that can be written down in a manual.  Mr Pyke, ever discreet, seems to understand and thinks no less of him for it.

The plot we finally learn hinges on a Van Gogh painting which Mrs Wilcox had bought but was not as it seemed, along with some other pictures in her collection.  As is often the case in the Maigret series, the actual mechanics of the crime are banal – in this case an attempt at extortion gone awry – which is rather like life.  The book is less concerned with the mechanics of crime than it is Maigret’s mentation while out of his comfort zone.  Simenon displays his usual weakness of providing sketchy subsidiary characters, but his strength in creating a vivid sense of place and atmosphere is fully on display.

Having lived for a couple of months on a Greek island in summer, I can empathise with the description of Porquerolles as a place of stasis where people laze their time away.  It’s just too easy to put your feet up and let life flow over you in a place like that.  Despite the rain and cold there is much to be said for the energy of more temperate climates, and it is no surprise to learn that the murderer is an energetic northern European.

(26 August 2016)


The Man on the Boulevard

Published in 1953, The Man on the Boulevard [Maigret et l’homme du banc] is a typical Simenon, evoking a drizzly autumnal Paris as Maigret plods around on the trail of a murderer.  Louis Thouret, the murdered man, is found in an alley with a knife in his back and a surprised look on his face, but it soon emerges that his death involves more than one conundrum.  To begin with, when his wife sees the body she is puzzled by the brown shoes and reddish tie he is wearing, not the attire he wears when he sets off each morning.

Chief Superintendent Maigret soon learns that far from going to work, the wholesalers where he was a storekeeper had closed down suddenly several years earlier.  Since then he has existed without any visible means of support that the police can discern while leaving and coming back to his tawdry suburban house at the same times as before, and bringing home his wages as usual.  How, when Louis seemed to spend most of his time sitting on benches, did he get his money, and where did he keep those brown shoes and tie his wife had never seen?  Was his death due to the money, or was it something more general to do with the parallel lives he was leading unknown to his wife?  The murder investigation becomes intertwined with uncovering these mysteries.

Nobody (apart from his family, who looked down on him as a failure) has a bad word to say about him, so it seems impossible his income would be the proceeds of crime – and yet how else could he have got it?  Digging into the dead man’s personal life, Maigret and his team of inspectors locate his rented room, and learn that he had a close lady friend.  It is clear why he would want some measure of independence from the cabal at home comprising his wife, her two sisters and her sisters’ husbands, and that the brown shoes would constitute a secret act of rebellion.  Events take another turn when Maigret discovers that Louis’s daughter and her boyfriend knew he had lost his job, and were in effect blackmailing him to fund their proposed emigration to South America.

As is to be expected with Simenon it is a quick read with no fat, as Maigret’s precise approach to police work, allied to his intuition based on long experience, enables him to get to the nub of the matter.  For most of its length the novel is engaging because the reader wonders how the mild-mannered Louis makes his money, even if it is likely that it is illicitly, and because the identity of the killer is elusive.  It is a mark of how intriguing those aspects are that the ending is such a let-down, because it abruptly introduces two characters who have not previously been part of the investigation – Louis’s accomplice and the murderer – so would not have been possible for the reader to identify beforehand.

The money-making scheme is also a disappointment because it is unsophisticated, and it is astonishing that he and his accomplice could make such a large sum just from robbing tills, so much it is worth killing him to obtain the money.  It is a rushed ending that undercuts the careful atmosphere Simenon has built up during the rest of the novel.  The emphasis is on the characters, who by this stage he could doubtless conjure up with his eyes closed, but at the expense of the plot, which is unconvincing.  The reader is left feeling that time spent making the details more credible would have resulted in a stronger conclusion.

(20 August 2015)


Account Unsettled

A non-Maigret story, Account Unsettled [Crime impuni], published in 1954, is divided neatly into two parts.  The first begins in 1926 in Liège, a city which as it happens was Simenon’s birthplace.  Madame Lange rents out rooms to students at the university.  Her longest-serving boarder is Elie, a Jew from Vilna in Poland, who has lived in her house for three years.

He is an extremely talented mathematician from a very large and very poor family who has only been able to pursue his studies with assistance from a Jewish charity.  He is now working on his doctorate, and spends most of his time in the kitchen where it is warm.  Introverted and withdrawn, physically unattractive, he does not make friends and has no social life.  He has grown accustomed to the house and particularly to his landlady’s sickly daughter, Louise.  He has never spoken to her about his feelings, which he does not fully comprehend himself.  Even so, he believes that he could comfortably remain where he is, with the two women and the other boarders, for the rest of his life.

Unfortunately his composure is shattered by the arrival of a rich outgoing Romanian student, Michel Zograffi, who quickly becomes the centre of the household because unlike the others he pays for full board and occupies the best room.  Speaking Polish but no French, Elie translates for him but senses Michel’s disdain after Elie rebuffs an offer of friendship.  Perceptively, Madame Lange accuses him of being jealous.  Michel is outgoing, but is revealed to have a dark side when Madame Lange discovers a number of photographs of naked women in provocative poses, taken by himself, in his room.  Elie becomes obsessed with Michel, who is everything he is not, and one day sneaks into his room to poke around his things.  Unfortunately he is caught by Michel.

After seeing them by chance standing in a doorway on a dark street, Elie realises that Michel has seduced Louise and discovers they are having regular afternoon sex during Madame Lange’s absence.  He takes to watching them through the keyhole, but it becomes apparent that Michel is aware he is doing so.  Elie is crushed by Michel’s actions, by his contempt, and the stark differences in their lives, all of which combine to destroy his equilibrium, and he decides that the interloper has to be punished.  Madame Lange’s husband was killed in the war, but she still has his revolver.  Elie steals it and one night waylays Michel, shooting him in the face.  Realising he has not killed Michel outright but not able to fire again, Elie flees to Hamburg.

The second part of the story jumps forward 26 years, with Elie married and living quietly in Carlson City, Arizona, replacing the cold of Europe with the stifling heat of the American west.  Having abandoned mathematics he is employed as a hotel receptionist in a mining town and has become enormously fat.  The fate of the mine and hotel hangs in the balance as their owner is going through a messy and expensive divorce, and an underground lake has been discovered at the mine that may make its future exploitation unviable.  Hotel and mine are finally sold, and when the purchaser checks in it is none other than Michel, now a successful businessman.  He had survived the shooting but had had to have reconstructive surgery which made the lower half of his face immobile, and his expression inscrutable.

Elie is disconcerted to see his victim, though in his heart he had known that fate would eventually catch up with him.  But he does not know what Michel will do and is in an agony of suspense.  Yet Michel, after establishing some basic facts about him, simply ignores him and rejects Elie’s attempt to communicate.  Elie goes through permutations of possible reasons for Michel’s behaviour, only one of which is the likeliest: he has decided that Elie’s mundane life and lost promise represent a greater punishment than any he could inflict.  Elie is frustrated by Michel’s refusal to offer closure and is terrified he will lose his job and be sent away, because he has nowhere to go.  Having failed to kill Michel, he now fails to provoke a response.  Feeling he has little to lose and suspecting that Michel may be leaving Carson City, removing his scope for action, he impulsively takes a gun kept in hotel reception and finishes what he started almost three decades before.

This is less a crime story than it is an exploration of Elie’s interior life.  His insecurities, it is suggested, stem from his unloved childhood in Poland, which is contrasted with Michel’s warm relationship with his mother.  Where Michel’s life was one of affluence, Elie’s was wretchedly poverty-stricken.  His mother had produced so many offspring she could hardly tell them apart, the families in the area so lacking in resources that children had to go barefoot in the snow and siblings fought over a pair of boots.  It was the cold and hunger that made Elie seek out a hot place where he could eat to excess.  His personality has not changed, though, and the climate has not warmed him; when he thinks he might have to leave the hotel, he understands his wife would not go with him as she feels more for her sisters than she does for him.  For all his intelligence, he cannot read people.  He goes round in circles trying to deduce Michel’s attitude until the simplest way out of the morass of contradictory feelings is just to shoot him again.  That way he can be sure Michel is paying him some attention.

(5 September 2016)

The Afterlife Unveiled: What ‘The Dead’ Tell Us About Their World, by Stafford Betty

Afterlife Unveiled cvr

In his 2011 book The Afterlife Unveiled, Stafford Betty, Professor of Religion at California State University at Bakersfield, takes a number of texts which deal with mediumistic communications and extracts descriptions of what the afterlife looks like and what apparently happens to us once we are there.  He notes that mediumship is a major source of such reports because most religious writings are reticent when discussing conditions in the hereafter.  His focus is on the dead speaking and he excludes evidence gleaned from near-death experiences and death-bed visions.

Betty devotes a chapter each to seven mediums and their ostensible spirit communicators, presented in chronological order.  They are Rev. William Stainton Moses and’ Imperator’ and colleagues, in Spirit Teachings (1883) and More Spirit Teachings (1892); Leslie Stringfellow, recorded by his mother Alice in The Afterlife of Leslie Stringfellow (while the original book was published in 1926 and a new edition in 2005, Leslie died in 1886, and communications took place over the next 15 years); Judge David Hatch via Elsa Barker, in Letters from the Afterlife, aka Letters from a Living Dead Man (1914); Society for Psychical Research co-founder Frederic Myers through Geraldine Cummins in The Road to Immortality (1932); Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson via Anthony Borgia in Life in the World Unseen (1934); Anglican nun Frances Banks through Helen Greaves in Testimony of Light (1977); and finally Lutheran minister Alvin D. Mattson through Margaret Flavell in Witness from Beyond (1975) and Evidence from Beyond (1999).

Though given various names by the communicators, there is an emphasis on a series of levels souls ascend as they grow spiritually, never able to reach the next until ready for it.  Those who have led bad lives may not want to move up, and some lower planes are horrible – but the emphasis on free will means individuals themselves must make headway; it cannot be done on their behalf.  So some are in a kind of hell, true, but of their own making, and there is always hope they will see their errors and so escape.  Nobody is irredeemably damned to eternal torments.  This is still a theological afterlife, with God in it, though one in which He does not sit in judgement but leaves us to make our own way upwards to some form of union with the divine.  Religious affiliation on earth is not a guarantor of progress (and presumably some may be a hindrance, if adherence leads to immoral acts).  Existence is a continual journey of learning, whether we want to or not; we grow spiritually by study and positive deeds in the afterlife.  We are not on our own because spirit ‘social workers’ assist unevolved souls and care for children who passed over before their time and now grow up in the spirit world.  We meet again those with whom we have a deep connection, and may even join in a Group Soul in order to speed up the collective spiritual growth, according to Myers.

In his conclusions, Betty itemises several dozen points summarising what the seven texts say, finding a great deal of congruence between them.  This is the book’s most valuable section, pulling together the accounts.  One aspect upon which there are conflicting opinions is reincarnation.  Betty concedes the lack of unanimity gave him pause, wondering if the communications could originate in each medium’s subconscious, but he decided that, overall, the evidence stood up to this one thorny issue.  He concludes that reincarnation could be an option to allow the individual to develop faster than would be the case by remaining in the afterlife, by undertaking a greater challenge, but is a voluntary arrangement rather than a requirement.  Alternatively, it seems the afterlife is largely segregated ethnically (though perhaps this is changing in line with the increasing multiculturalism to be found on earth), so perhaps reincarnation occurs more in realms populated by peoples who subscribe to it: thus those in the Hindu realm are more likely to reincarnate than are those in the Christian realm.  Reincarnation viewed as a learning experience does beg the question why experiences garnered while incarnated and between incarnations are not available to recall from one state to the next.  It is an odd kind of learning experience if one cannot remember it.  The theory also implies that on average adherents to belief systems which include reincarnation are spiritually more evolved than those which do not, not a differential much in evidence.

Good news is that the afterlife is a place of culture where it is possible to be a spectator at a new play by Shakespeare, or hear a new piece of music written by Mozart.  Less good is that artistic works are sanitised, with nothing unpleasant permitted in this safe space. It is a place for the development of mind.  Endlessly singing God’s praises may not on the menu, but it still sounds a trifle dull, however wonderful watching the latest drama from the Bard would be (does he keep up to date or are his plays always based on his own times, and what sorts can he write if he has to omit the violent bits?).  On the other hand, this new life after life is difficult to put into words, as can be seen from the way music plays a key role, and a sensory melding of sensation amounting to synaesthesia.  We only have in front of us what can be articulated, and much is perforce left out.  Perhaps it only appears dull to us, who know no better, and new riches more than compensate for the loss of some earthly habits and interests better left behind.

Betty stresses that people who have passed on do not have all the answers; there is no reason why they should suddenly achieve omniscience simply because they are dead, though they can see further than those still on earth.  Further, he concedes that an amanuensis may unwittingly influence the transmission process, so what is written is not the pure communication intended by the individual from whom it originates.  However, he is sure that the scripts are genuinely originating in discarnate entities rather than other mechanisms such as clairvoyance or telepathy.  He feels the descriptions must have some validity in referring to a real state because they are coherent in a way they would not be if they were randomly concocted.  Surprisingly he does not take into account the obvious possibility that those interested in survival might read what others have written, thereby achieving a consistency when they take down their own messages.  The mediums he scrutinises were not operating in a vacuum but were part of a tradition, therefore independence between their productions cannot be assumed.

So does all this matter? Can’t we just wait until we get there and find out for ourselves?  Betty takes issue with Christian theologians who seem embarrassed by discussions of life after death.  In particular he believes the attitude that discussion of it is a distraction from a concern with matters in the here and now to be misguided.  He argues that life here cannot be separated from life there – how we live directly influences what happens afterwards, and they must be treated holistically.  Certainly an approach which stresses a moral life cannot be a bad one, even if the continuation of consciousness it is predicated on proves to be an illusion, but one feels that spirits do not help as much as they might.  Spirit scientists are well ahead of those on earth in their research, we are told, and elements of these advances are often fed to living scientists – ‘Benson’ goes so far as to claim ‘the earth world has the spirit world to thank for all the major scientific discoveries that have been made throughout the centuries’ – but for some reason it is always done discreetly, without those on earth realising an intervention has been made.  Presenting a major scientific discovery explicitly via a medium would do more to change sceptics’ minds than all the channelled communications extolling Summerland put together, yet it never happens.

A vast literature on mediumship exists and Betty does not say what guided his selection, apart from personal conviction.  There can be no independent criteria by which to judge other than an appeal to plausibility, and that will vary according to one’s sympathies.  Ultimately the amount of credence readers give these accounts is determined by how disposed they are to consider mediums conduits of valid information.  People who are committed to the idea of an afterlife already may be encouraged to expand their conception of what the life to come is actually like away from a rigid one based on a particular religious stance, but it is unlikely that sceptics will be persuaded of the genuineness of alleged mediumistic sources when other interpretations are on offer.

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