22 December 2007

Betty May. Tiger Woman, 1929

Betty May. TIGER - WOMAN. MY STORY. London: Duckworth, 1929.

Current Selling Prices
$400+ /£200+

A beast of a book - literally, because it is very hard to find and also because its value derives from its connection to the Great Beast himself, Aleister Crowley. Briefly, Betty May was born in in Canning Town, (around Tidal Basin) London where she endured an extremely rough childhood. She became an artist's model, moved in decidedly bohemian circles and migrated to Paris where she hung out with the Apaches (motorised robbers mostly). She was known among the Apaches as 'The Tiger-Woman.' Five feet tall and of a witchy appearance she was not a woman to cross, at one point she threatened to murder Crowley. She was married three times, her second husband divorced her because of her overuse of cocaine; having cleaned up she married again for love. Her third husband Raoul Loveday whom she had met at the Harlequin club in London was a young Oxford graduate and keen Egyptologist. Together they made a fateful journey to Crowley's retreat Thelema Abbey in Cefalu, Sicily.

Betty May writes that she detested Crowley but it appears that Loveday was captivated by his personality. Loveday died at Thelema after an illness in slightly mysterious cicumstances. Betty May surmises it was after drinking tainted water at a nearby monastery but the rumour (completely false) was that he expired after drinking cat's blood in a magick ceremony. The newspaper went mad in England and America with headlines such as 'Varsity Lad's Death. Enticed to 'Abbey'. Dreadful ordeal of a young wife...' This is where Crowley's reputation as the Great Beast was made. Betty May, obviously no innocent, was cast as the 'Young English bride' 'Girl-wife' 'Parlour Puss' and Loveday as her 'boy-husband.' It was the beginning of the great tabloid sensations and was like, say, Pete Doherty, Kate Moss and Amy Winehouse all rolled into one.

Crowley did not sue Betty May, but a little later sued Nina Hamnett over her book 'Laughing Torso' which he said had associated him wrongly with Black Magic. He lost, appealed and then lost again and became bankrupt. Rather a shame as nowadays he could have capitalised on his tabloid fame and become rich.

VALUE? Now a rare book. The copy I have before me, somewhat used and jacketless is the only copy currently around according to Addall, Bookfinder etc., It is in fact an 'Uncle' (acrronym in use for 'Unique No Copy Located Elsewhere') and when I get round to it I will probably list it at £200 (later note 2/2/08--just sold it at a shade less than that.) A jacketed, shipshape copy would probably command twice that. Nina Hamnett's book 'Laughing Torso' is relatively common and the Constable 1932 edition can be had for £25 although it should fetch £100 in jacket and £200 or more in the signed limited edition form.

TRIVIA. Anthony Powell and the Great Beast, 666. This to be found at the excellent Thelema Lodge site:
'...in 1929, Crowley telephoned the Duckworth offices to invite its editor to lunch for a discussion of accusations made against the Abbey of Thelema (where Betty May's husband Raoul Loveday had died from drinking tainted water from a Cefalu stream). Taking the call, Powell found the "near-cockney accent" of the magus unappealing, and knowing that his ancestors had been among the dissenting sects of the Quakers and Plymouth Brethren, "wondered whether his cadences preserved the traditional 'snuffling' speech ascribed to the Roundheads." The restaurant was called Simpson's, in The Strand, and Crowley said Powell might recognize him "from the fact that I am not wearing a rose in my buttonhole."
Recalling his mother's dread as well as his childhood perusal of The Equinox, Powell was uncertain about the meeting, wondering "whether I should be met in the lobby by a thaumaturge in priestly robes, received with the ritual salutation: 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law'; if so,whether politeness required the correct response: 'Love is the Law, Love under Will.'" In fact the "big weary-looking man" who "rose from one of the seats and held out his hand" was "quietly, almost shabbily, dressed in a dark brown suit and grey Homburg hat." His figure seemed "intensely sinister" due to the"unusual formation of his bald and shaven skull." They dined on mutton, and Crowley had a glass of milk. After fully stating his case against the"inaccuracies and vulgarities of phrase" marring Tiger-Woman, Crowley expounded in general upon "the hard life of a mage, its difficulties and disappointments, especially in relation to the unkindness and backbiting of fellow magicians."


MarkBraun said...

Why not simply scan and reprint the book? There are certainly enough of us interested in buying one.

Anonymous said...

I have a very good copy of this book and would be interested in selling it. My email is sirikirin@gmail.com. Please let me know if you are interested.

Thank You,