Both Sides of the Door by Margaret Lumley Brown

First published in 1918 and chronicling events some five years earlier, Margaret Lumley Brown’s Both Sides of the Door offers a marvellous peek into  England on the verge of the great war. This little psychological novel packs a punch with its battle of a very different sort, one that turned the heads of the likes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The all new Skylight Press edition includes an introduction by Gareth Knight, the author of Pythoness: The Life and Work of Margaret Lumley Brown – and an informative post-script essay by novelist and dramatist, Rebecca Wilby. It also follows the book design of the 1918 original. As a best way to introduce the book, here are some excerpts from that essay, entitled Margaret Lumley Brown: Legacy, Life, Locations.

In her later writings Margaret Lumley Brown made no secret of the fact that Both Sides of the Door was an accurate personal account of her own experiences, and although fictionalised with changed names the detail is substantially truthful.

She seems to have made an effort to develop her psychic faculties in the years immediately following the haunting incident, as evidenced by a notebook she kept around 1916-19 in which she recorded visual impressions of elementals and planetary spirits she encountered during her meditations. There was also the extensive automatic writing from the contact referred to in the book as “Charon”. In her later article A Psychic Upheaval she identifies this contact more specifically as Oscar Wilde. “As to whether or not it was really he,” she wrote, “I can only say it appeared to all of us to be so at the time.”

During her period of obsession she found herself opening up as a channel for poetry, an art which she was fond of but had never before been able to produce so instantly and spontaneously. She began to pour them out, new poems and remembered ones, for hours at a time…

At the end of 1918, Both Sides of the Door was published in London by Arthur H. Stockwell, a popular publisher of the day, under the pen-name of Irene Hay. Wartime paper shortages ensured that the book was kept small and cheap, and copies of this original edition are now incredibly rare. It was well received though, and was still being discussed in occult magazines in 1923. She evidently sent a copy to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote back with great enthusiasm: “It is a unique experience so far as I know. I have been at this subject 30 years and have struck nothing of the kind.” He suggested that he would like to meet Margaret and Isobel to discuss it further, though whether or not any such meeting ever took place is lost to history…

The site of the house where Margaret Lumley Brown underwent her ordeal is of some interest in itself, given that much of the haunting was thought to be related to the location, and the ‘place memories’ of what had happened there in the past. Although the novel gives some tantalising clues, it never explicitly identifies the street, giving no more than an indication that it was “behind the Edgware Road” in the vicinity of Marble Arch, and near the site of the former Tyburn gallows. Even the Tyburn connection doesn’t give us a definitive location, because there is more than one site associated with it. Old maps mark the site of the Tyburn Tree (the notorious ‘tripod’ gallows which enabled multiple hangings to be effected at once) at the junction of the Edgware and Bayswater Roads. Indeed if you visit Marble Arch today you will find a plaque set into the pavement, very close to the arch itself, commemorating Tyburn’s approximate spot. It was common for a gallows to be erected at a junction just outside a town, and this junction of ancient roads was the westernmost boundary of London up until relatively recent times…

In Both Sides of the Door Margaret describes the dreams which she and others repeatedly had during the period immediately preceding the haunting, in which they saw “the district as it presumably looked a hundred years and more ago”. The description is of a rural scene: “There was a stream at the back of this house where some women were washing clothes. The houses round looked quite different, and there were a lot of trees in the distance almost as if it were the country. There was no pavement anywhere, but I saw cobble-stones where Connaught Square is now … There were no yards at the back of the houses as there are now, and the Bayswater Road looked like a country one with trees and cottages rather sparsely scattered over it.” An ill-kept turnpike was also a common feature…

In her later writings, Margaret Lumley Brown gives her own succinct postscript to Both Sides of the Door: “Looking back on the events from a distance of some years, they even seem funny sometimes, so much does time alter perspective. Only persons who have been through the same mill will quite understand the awful reality of those three weeks of terror. To most others I quite realise that the whole thing will appear a delusion.” 

Both Sides of the Door is available from various retail outlets such as Amazon, or direct from the Skylight Press website.

About Daniel

Writer & Musician
This entry was posted in Esoteric, Essays, Literature, New authors, New books, Recommended reads and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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