Le Grand Jeu: René Daumal’s Peradams

Like his literary hero the poet Arthur Rimbaud, René Daumal was a native of the Champagne-Ardenne region of north-eastern France. His brilliance and tragically early demise, were also shared by his predecessor. In the seventy years since his death, Daumal has become a cult figure, with his influence evident in the works of other ideologists and truth seekers, notably the legendary Chilean film maker and guru, Alejandro Jodorowsky.

Hailed as ‘a hallucinogenic daydream’ by The New York Times, the underlying cinematic inference of Jodorowsky’s psychotropic creation, The Holy Mountain (1973), is in fact far more numinous and esoteric than such a description implies. The film can be viewed as an extension of Daumal’s remarkable vision, for as the French writer and poet believed, and Jodorowsky himself has suggested, the irrefutable reality of human existence is that, ‘Every one of us lives in a different world, with different space and different time.’

Above: Trailer for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain (1973)

Born on 16th March 1908, in the village of Boulzicourt, Daumal’s childhood was an unsettled one, given his parents’ propensity to routinely uproot the family. The most stable figure for the young boy was his paternal grandfather Antoine, a bee keeper whose interests included freemasonry and spirituality.

Moving to Reims in 1921, Daumal befriended a group of fellow students, and their shared bond would provide each of them with an enduring source of personal and professional inspiration. Originally known as the Phrères Simplistes, Daumal along with Roger Gilbert-Lecomte, Roger Vailland and Robert Meyrat would go on to form the collective, Le Grand Jeu. Continue reading

Once In A Blue Moon: Suwanni Sukhontha’s Stories

Suwanni Sukhonthiang was born in Phitsanulok, a province of Northern Thailand, on 1st March 1932. After leaving school, she travelled to the capital Bangkok, where she spent the next two years studying at the Pohchang Academy of Arts; she completed her education by taking a course in fine art at Silpakorn University, graduating in 1951. Taking a job as a teacher, she worked at the Bangkok School of Arts before lecturing at her alma mater. At the same time, she began penning short stories under the pen name Suwanni Sukontha; her first published story being Chot Mai Thueng Puk for the Siam Rath Weekly. Encouraged the positive reaction to her writing, Sukhontha decided to devote herself full-time to it, and produced her debut novel Sai Bo Yut Sane Hai in 1965.

Noted for her masterful character development, and powerful imagery, Sukhontha won the SEATO literature award in 1971 for her novel Khao Chue Kan, a gritty tale about an idealistic young doctor and his dissatisfied wife, dealing with the corruption and dishonesty of those around them and its catastrophic impact upon their own relationship. By 1973, the story had taken on a greater significance with the student uprisings in Thailand, and the ensuing transition of the previous military dictatorship into a more pro-democratic political system.

A year after she was given the prestigious award, Sukhontha founded and edited the female-orientated literature journal Lalana and used the publication as a platform for her progressive ideas about women and their involvement in Thai society. Sukhontha also received the National Book Week’s Award for Duai Pik Khong Rak in 1973. Continue reading

For The Friendless: Reverend Thomas Jackson And The Whitechapel Mission

In the East End of London, the Whitechapel Mission tirelessly provides the invaluable service that has been its purpose since its earliest incarnation as the Working Lads’ Institute and Home. With the aim of offering shelter, food and rehabilitation to young men who often had few options but petty crime, the Institute gave them an opportunity to prove themselves to be diligent and constructive members of society by encouraging them to aid the city’s most unfortunate dwellers. As a reward for their service, they would leave with glowing references and the full endorsement of the Institute.

The Working Lads’ Institute and Home was founded by the merchant and philanthropist, Henry Hill, in 1876, with the original premises at The Mount, Whitechapel Road. In 1885, the Institute was moved to a new building with an address at 285 Whitechapel Road, which even had a library, swimming baths and a gymnasium. Lads were also allowed to put on musical shows and plays, to which members of the public were invited to attend.

Several years later, the Institute would become associated with Jack the Ripper case when the inquests for the murders, of Polly Nichols and Annie Chapman were held there. Following the inquest into the murder of Frances Coles (not thought to be a Ripper victim) was conducted there in 1891, it was reported that the governor of the Institute was so annoyed by the large and noisy crowds who turned up to hear the gruesome details, that he ordered the coroner, Wynne Baxter, to find an alternative site. Continue reading

Immortal Beloved: Count von Cosel And Elena

On 25th October 1931, 22 year-old Elena de Hoyos finally succumbed to the tuberculosis that had already killed several members of her family. Her remaining relatives were not alone in mourning the loss of Elena, an exceptionally beautiful and talented young woman who, before her illness, had a bright future ahead of her as a singer and entertainer. Eighteen months before her death, Elena had come to the attention of the eccentric Count Carl von Cosel. He was no genuine aristocrat, but von Cosel had arrived in Florida from Dresden in Germany in 1927, when he was 50. In America, he changed his title and name from the more humble Tanzler, after abandoning his German wife and their two children. Immediately smitten with Elena, von Cosel believed she was the striking dark-haired woman he later claimed to have been haunted by dreams and visions of.

Never short of suitors on account of her dazzling looks, in 1926 Elena married Luis Mesa, a local man who, like herself, was of Cuban origin. The marriage broke down soon after when Elena suffered a miscarriage and was then diagnosed with tuberculosis. It was during one of her hospital stays that Elena first met von Cosel, who was working as a radiologic technologist at the U.S. Marine Hospital in Key West. Befriending Elena’s parents, von Cosel promised them that he would be able to cure their daughter, even though doctors had warned them there was little hope that she would recover. As he treated her using his own outlandish methods involving x-rays and other machines, as well as tonics containing specks of gold, von Cosel professed his undying love to the dying Elena and brought her extravagant presents. Uninterested, she routinely snubbed his advances, and von Cosel failed in his quest to heal the object of his affection.

A devastated von Cosel offered to pay for Elena’s funeral and also had an elaborate mausoleum built for her at the Key West Cemetery, which he visited on a nightly basis. He also built an airship that he christened ‘The Countess Elena,’ and expressed his wish that some day, he and his dear departed one might travel to the stars in it, where they would be ‘high into the stratosphere, so that radiation from outer space could penetrate Elena’s tissues and restore life to her somnolent form.’ Continue reading