03 November 2007

Crook Frightfulness 1932, 1936. A Classic of Paranoia.

Crooks can hear your thoughts.
Stranglehold you by Ventriloquism.
Hold whole populations in service.

'A Victim'. CROOK FRIGHTFULNESS. Birmingham: Cornish, 1932; Birmingham: Moody Bros., revised edition, 1936.

Current Selling Prices
$100-$250 /£50-£120

A strange and slightly disturbing book with some laugh out loud passages. It tells of how a young man whose business was rent collecting in London's East End became the victim of of a life-long 'persecution' by crooks, even as he travelled round the world - persecution by muttering and whispering, staring, gassing, obscenities and 'Ventriloquial Terrorism.' The writer believed that his tormentors possessed a "stethoscope apparatus that enable[d] them to hear [his] thoughts". The subtitle of the book gives something of its flavour : "They are the most powerful, terrible and pitiless killers, cunning, amazingly and enormously treacherous." The first book I have done that is listed in the magisterial 'Bizarre Books' (Lake and Ash). They describe it thus:
"...Crook Frightfulness is the autobiography of a hunted man who believes himself to be continually hounded and molested by evil men, or 'crooks'. 'How was I to know that I had of my own violation opened the doors of Hell- to turn me from a cheery, care-free youth of 18 to a prematurely aged man, terrified by horrible men, threatening my sanity and life?' ...He also provides a detailed account of what he describes as 'ventriloquial terrorism', whereby '...a molestor using ventriloquism may be in a house or building or walking along in a tram or bus or in a car, yet he can throw his voice anywhere undetected by those who are near them.' This technique gives rise to various embarrassing experiences, including one where 'I had just bidden adieu to a friend on the Aberystwyth Marine Parade and had just turned away from him when I heard the words-"The old sod"- said in my voice tones too!' "
Copies of 'Fish Who Answer the Telephone and Other Bizarre Books' can be had at the Bizarre Books Website.

The book is listed at the excellent and comprehensive site Bibliography of First-Person Narratives of Madness. Here are a sample of other titles in this fascinating field.

Davidson, D. Remembrances of a Religio-Maniac. Stratford-on-Avon, UK: Shakespeare, 1912.
Dawson, Jennifer. The Ha-Ha. Boston: Little, Brown, 1961.
Gilbert, William. The Monomaniac, or Shirley Hall Asylum. New York: James G. Gregory, 1864.
Handler, Lowell. Twitch and Shout: A Touretter’s Tale. New York: Penguin, 1999.
Hewitt, Harald. From Harrow School to Herrison House Asylum. London: C. W. Daniel, 1923.
Kaysen, Susanna. Girl, Interrupted. New York: Random House, 1993.
Kerkoff, Jack. How Thin the Veil: A Newspaperman's Story of His Own Mental Crackup and Recovery. New York: Greenberg, 1952.
Lowe, Louisa. The Bastilles of England; or The Lunacy Laws at Work. London: Crookenden, 1883.
----- A Nineteenth Century Adaptation of Old Inventions to the Repression of New Thoughts and Personal Liberty. London: Burns, 1872.
----- Gagging in Madhouses as Practised by Government Servants in a Letter to the People, by one of the Gagged. London: Burns, 1872.
Osborne, Luther. The Insanity Racket: A Story of One of the Worst Hell Holes in This Country. Oakland, CA: 1939.
Riviere, Pierre. I Pierre Riviere, Having Slaughtered My Mother, My Sister, and My Brother . . .: A Case of Parricide in the 19th Century (ed.Michel Foucault; trans. from 1973 French ed.). New York: Random House, 1975.
Roberts, Marty. Sojourn in a Palace for Peculiars. New York: Carlton, 1970.
Styron, William. Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. New York: Random House, 1990.
Wannack [pseud.]. Guilty but Insane: A Broadmoor Autobiography. London: Chapman & Hall, 1931.

Of these I have read the novel 'The Ha Ha' and Styron's sympathetic account of a struggle with depression where he offers no easy remedy except time. The curious thing about the 'Crook Frightfulness' is that contemporary reviews of the book (to be found in the 1936 reprint which I have at my side) mostly took the book at face value, believing that gangs of criminals followed the man round the world muttering insults. A brief reading reveals that the writer is suffering from paranoia, with many sane interludes in which he describes his travels in New Zealand, the West Indies etc., One giveaway is that wherever he is in the world the threats (uttered by passers by, people on roofs, passing taxis) are almost all the same e.g.'English sod' 'bum shit' 'sod him out' 'pooped out of England' 'the British skunk' 'the white dude' 'the beast' etc., A review in the Hampshire Telegraph in 1935 notes 'Students of criminal methods should obtain this book...exciting reading..." Far more is known about mental conditions now, doubtless pills could be prescibed and the police might now be more sympathetic to his complaints--in the book he is continually being ejected from police stations or pointedly ignored.

VALUE? When I started out book collecting in the great barn of a shop in Reading (William Smith) I was looking for oddities like this and used to find copies of the book for about 25p (50 cents). It was not especially scarce and had something of a vogue among connoisseurs of the odd and downright strange. The only copy on the web at present is a ludicrous but not completely surreal price of $325 at Amazon. I bought a copy off a canny and costive Suffolk bookseller last year for £35 less 10% and resented it. Odd books are less fun if you have to pay through the nose for them. However it seems that the book has become difficult and a collector on the web at a record site values it at $200 with the following rant:
To take an example from the world of rare books, if you have the money I can get you a fine first edition in parts of David Copperfield tomorrow. It'll cost you a huge fucking bundle but all the really big dealers know where to get one (usually from each other). But I can't get you tomorrow a copy of CROOK FRIGHTFULNESS, a very very strange book privately published by a schizophrenic in the '20s. It's only worth a couple hundred dollars because only a few people know about it and want it, but it's a lot rarer than the David Copperfield. And to my mind it's just as interesting! Put simply, expensive and common are not opposing terms...
The first edition, according to a review in the reprint, has a 4 page leaflet accompanying it 'Ventriloquial Terrorism in 1932'. I have never seen this. The author suggests a counter active 'detector' is needed that 'will give the direction and distance that the ventriloquial voice derives from...' [ W/Q ** ]


Mel said...

After reading about Crook Frightfulness in the book by Ash and Lake some years ago, I just had to find a copy. I did encounter the $325 copy, but, like you said, felt that it was less fun to pay so much....through interlibrary loan I was able to get my hands on a copy....I posted a link to your blog entry from my own...I really enjoyed the bookride :) Thanks....

Roger said...

This map may interest you.