Sunday, September 11, 2005

Jean Overton Fuller's The Magical Dilemma Of Victor Neuburg

(reviewed by Charlotte)
During a small occult Fair at the beginning of 2005 I discovered that Marc Aitkin, who was organising sound and lighting for the event, had also made a short film around a 'what if' future of Victor Neuburg. Victor Neuburg being best known as Aleister Crowley's disciple and lover but he was also a poet, editor and the man who 'discovered' Dylan Thomas. The film was screened at the fair, but the impromptu showing didn't do 'Do Angels Ever Cut Themselves Shaving' justice; so we decided to give the film another, more focused viewing.

During preliminary arranging of this screening I discovered Richard McNeffs novel, 'Sybarite among the Shadows'; a strangely similar 'what if' also centred on Victor Neuburg, (similar in intuitive direction that is rather than in execution and result) complete with wartime settings and dedications to Mercury and Thoth respectively. Both of these creative works were initially inspired by a book by Jean Overton Fuller, 'The Magickal Dilemma of Victor Neuburg' Needless to say after encountering the works of the two above artists I very quickly purchased and read Jean Overton Fullers book, to check out the source of such abundant inspiration.

The first part of 'The Magical Dilemma' is centred on Jean in 1935 when she was in her early twenties and she first became part of a circle of poets, which included Dylan Thomas and Pamela Hansford Johnson, and which was formed by Victor Neuburg when he was Poetry Editor of The Sunday Referee.

This part of the book was a joy to read, as it fleshed out many of the names that I have encountered in various books and references over the years; creating a reality from history so to speak. In this first section of 'The Magical Dilemma', we see Victor Neuburg through the eyes of the younger Jean Overton Fuller and gradually realise the impression this gentle soul made upon her. Not simply a strong enough impression to last over the years to the time when she finally wrote this biography, but also powerful enough for her to overcome her personal beliefs and morality in the face of the said sexual and magical behaviour of Neuburg.

Truth to tell, in many ways I would say that Fuller adored Neuburg. That she thought him a good, gentle and talented man is beyond doubt but in many ways a sort of love and idealisation of him on her part comes across in the book that must have made some of the research into Newburg's past difficult for her.
'for me he lit a flame that can never be put out'…

I was intrigued as to the belief system of Fuller, which in some way seems contradictory. On one hand she has a working knowledge of palmistry/astrology and more academic branches of esoteric lore but on the other seemed to have what could be seen as a type of near Christian morality; more than one could explain as being a purely generational thing. Discovering Jean Overton Fuller's Theosophist affiliations clarified this, though the inclusion of Pamela Hansford Jones verbatim views of that period also helped me realise more about the standard morality of that time for women; even women of the more 'bohemian' set of that time. In later parts of the book, Fuller goes more into the life of Neuburg, and particularly his relationship, both sexual and magical, with Crowley.

The conflict of her obvious fondness for Neuburg, with detailing his relationship with someone like A.C whom she saw as an 'inflated pseudo messiah' and as 'exceedingly coarse' with near no redeeming features becomes obvious at points, though she generally retains the degree of professionalism necessary to rise above this, introducing statements from those she respects such as Gerald Yorke who retained a high opinion of A.C.

Whilst 'The Magical Dilemma of Victor Neuburg' book did not take me to the same places of imaginative and creative exploration as it did Marc Aitkin and Richard NcNeff, I still found it to be an interesting and stimulating book. I wont deny that some of the opinions and perspectives of Jean Fuller differ from my own, however this didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book as anything that triggers a process of thought and evaluation can only be a good thing!

Reading 'The Magical Dilemma of Victor Neuburg' caused me to re examine dynamics of creative magical relationships in general, as well as mulling over some fundamental aspects of the contemporary magical community that are well worth looking at. It also painted a very loving and more complete image of Victor Neuburg who for many years has existed only as a vague shadowy outline along with others of Aleister Crowley's associates and lovers in my minds eye, and this is a great thing as even in death AC has been allowed to reduce those who helped create the magick of that time, and this is something that has long needed rectifying.

One of the most poignant parts of the book was a quote given by Preston; 'Victor…was a dead man; he gave up magic and spent the whole of his life feeling he was not doing what he was meant to be doing' Jean Overton Fullers book shows that Victor Neuburg never gave up magic…just changed the way in which he performed it and without Crowley remained a creative, wondrous and spiritual man in his own right.

I think the best close for this review is a verse from 'The Epilogue' in Victor Neuburg's collection of poetry,'Triumph' of Pan, dedicated to A.C.

Because the fulfilment of dreams is itself but a dream,
There is no end save the song, and song is the end;
And here with a sheet of songs bareheaded I stand,
And the light is fled from mine eyes, and the sword
from my hand
Is fallen; the years have left me a fool, and the gleam
Is vanished from life, and the swift years sear me
And rend.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A wonderful review on a wonderful book that I feel should be paid more attention within the Occult and Thelemic communities. I, as well, may not have agreed with Fuller in every thought, yet I found her criticisms rational and thought provoking instead of being reactionary and hollow. This book has brought for me a greater appreciation for not only Victor Neuborg as a student of Crowley but Victor Neuborg as a Poet. His work was truly blessed. This book has also brought me into a greater understanding of the nature of Crowley through some of the more obscure letters and MS the author was able to provide throughout. While the subject of him was treated harshly throughout, it was still done in a civil and informative tone throughout.

I would again suggest this book to all those interested in the Occult movement during the early 1900's and those interested in the life of Crowley and those around him.

11:10 PM  

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