Marjorie Worthington - Strange World follows two writers in their turbulent relationship and marriage. Seabrook, a renowned writer of the occult, and Worthington, a novelist and short story writer, find themselves caught in Seabrook’s sadist world and his alcoholic, destructive downward spiral. This intense memoir is also a self-reflecting piece on Worthington’s life while married to Seabrook
Marjorie Worthington, The Strange World of Willie Seabrook, Spurl Editions, Spurl, 2017.
Excerpt on our blog / Excerpt on Berfrois
This is the somber, quietly stunning account of American author Marjorie Worthington’s life and relationship with William Seabrook.
A bestselling writer on the exotic and the occult, Seabrook was an extraordinary figure from the 1920s to the 1940s who traveled widely and introduced voodoo and the concept of the “zombie” to Americans in his book The Magic Island.
In 1966, years after his death from suicide, Worthington, a novelist and Seabrook’s second wife, cast her eye on their years living in France as lost-generation expatriates; their time traveling in the Sahara desert (where Seabrook researched his book The White Monk of Timbuctoo); their friendships with Aldous Huxley, Gertrude Stein, and Michel Leiris; and the gradual erosion of their relationship.
Worthington was with Seabrook in France and later New York when his life became consumed by alcohol, and he took the drastic step of committing himself to a mental institution for a cure; though he wrote about the institution in his book Asylum, he remained an alcoholic. He was also fixated by sadistic games he played with women, which he and the surrealist Man Ray photographed. He later viewed these sessions as a way to initiate altered psychological states through pain.
The Strange World of Willie Seabrook is an intimate look at the complicated, torturous relationship of two writers. Seabrook was a sadist, yet to Worthington he was also enthralling; he was an alcoholic, but she believed she could protect him. Even after he had hurt her emotionally, she stayed near him. In brilliantly depicted moments of folie à deux, we watch Worthington join Seabrook in his decline, and witness the shared claustrophobic, psychological breakdown that ensues.
This cover may well be your first encounter with American writers Willie Seabrook and Marjorie Worthington. It was for me, although Seabrook, especially, captured a wide readership in his day, enlivening New Deal America with alluring dispatches from far-flung locations. On one memorable occasion he and Worthington flew in a small aircraft from Paris to Timbuktu, byword for fantastical remoteness, unable to speak over the roaring engine and communicating in notes. And it was through him, for instance, that readers in the West first encountered the figure of the zombie, a phenomenon which spoke to Seabrook’s more-than-solely-journalistic interest in altered states of consciousness.
Worthington, his lover and later wife, also enjoyed success as a writer, if to a lesser degree; everything about the pair’s relationship suggests it would not have survived an inverse allocation of renown. They met while married to others, but considering the extremely unconventional life they were to live together, Seabrook and Worthington’s meet-cute couldn’t have been more suburban – they were making up a quartet for bridge. The Strange World of Willie Seabrook, originally published in 1966 and now reissued by Spurl Editions, details the pair’s subsequent life together in France and the US from the mid-1920s to their split in 1941, with a mournful coda taking us up to Seabrook’s suicide shortly after the end of World War Two.
With this unsettling book, Spurl seem to have arrived at a mid-point between two of their other titles, the noir squalor of Barbara Payton’s I Am Not Ashamed and the avant-garde stylings of Michel Leiris. That there might even be a Venn diagram that could offer an intersection between those highly contrasting circles offers some indication of the oddities that await you in this strange world.
Leiris himself turns up, along with numerous other between-the-wars luminaries. “It is impossible not to ‘drop names’ in writing all this,” announces the author. For real; she hasn’t even made it to the end of the first sentence before Gertrude Stein‘s name falls loudly to the page. Elsewhere we marvel at the porcine digits of Ford Madox Ford, visit a brothel with Carl Van Vechten, hole up next door to Aldous Huxley, and go for a night on the tiles with Dashiell Hammett when we bump into William Faulkner. Like you do.
Place names flash across the page like establishing shots and you just know someone interesting is going to arrive; as soon as there was mention of Toulon I realised with a thrill that one of the era’s most intriguing yet elusive figures couldn’t be far. And then, yes! along comes Princess Violette Murat herself, she of smoking-opium-in-a-submarine-with-René-Crevel fame. The name “Sanary” appears, and knowing there to be an émigré community in the Provençal seaside town at the time you realise that all manner of Mitteleuropa exiles will be along soon. Sure enough, there’s Stefan Zweig, Lion Feuchtwanger and a dour, preoccupied Thomas Mann (son Golo lodged with Seabrook and Worthington for a time, sleeping with a loaded revolver under his pillow). Another temporary Sanary resident, Sybille Bedford, described Worthington as “a stiff, gentle woman with a soft voice and an unhappy face”, and that is precisely how she comes across in these pages.
In France Seabrook and Worthington lived an intensely eccentric, bohemian existence punctuated by brief moments of luxury. That the sanitary arrangements in their loft-like Toulon home can be described, in full, by the words “slop jar” provides some sense of the living conditions, but this is when they appear to have been at their happiest. In what was even by his own quixotic standards an impulsive gesture, Seabrook leased a hilltop château in such an advanced state of disrepair that they could do little more than picnic between its crumbling walls, accompanied by their pet monkey Boubou.
What a complex and contradictory figure this Willie Seabrook was. He grew up in ‘genteel poverty’ and hated the fact, at times enjoyed significant material comforts through his own hard work and the popularity of his writing, yet he would often deliberately dress down, presenting himself as a man of far slimmer means. And although his books sold in enviable amounts, he craved the company and validation of more prestigious writers. He could be intolerably boorish and insensitive to the point of abject cruelty, but was so moved by his first exposure to a Verdi opera that he threw up in the interval.
In some ways Seabrook was ahead of his time. His 1935 book Asylum appeared decades before the rise of the celebrity rehab confessional (with truly propitious timing he had himself committed the day Prohibition was repealed). And certainly his interest in S&M came years before such practices even had the cachet of modish taboo. His particular preoccupation seemed to be in invoking extremes of control, immobilisation, endurance. The cover image of a hooded woman depicts one such exercise, and earned me the disapproving looks of an entire Polish family on the S-Bahn. But Worthington was no participant, no Wanda von Sacher-Masoch, not even an Ella Grainger. She didn’t want to know about the succession of women who arrived for varying durations, some for a single session, some for weeks. She dismissed them as “Lizzies”, trying not to dwell on them as individuals, wishing only their departure and Willie’s return to what passed for normality between the two.
Worthington’s prose is… not artless, exactly, but certainly guileless. She seems to exhale her words in a fretful sigh, sometimes recording the lyrical sensation of moments recalled, sometimes shrouding painful events in silence but never gratuitously retouching the past. Few episodes illustrate the gulf in the pair’s respective sensibilities better than her appalled description of Seabrook cooking and consuming human flesh in a borrowed Parisian kitchen (later – in one of the book’s most disturbing passages – he cooks his own flesh, plunging his elbows into scalding water so he can no longer bend his arm to drink). That Worthington was pained by the careless, callous, crapulous Seabrook is clear enough. Had she lived longer she could have filled a substantial bookcase to groaning with self-help books warning women against precisely the behaviour that she exhibits in this book. She tries to locate the source of Willie’s psychosexual intensity (cherchez la mère, apparently), but fails to question her own dependency. She is no less paralysed than the Lizzies, but there is no safe word for what she undergoes. When the inevitable split comes she is as debilitated as any of Seabrook’s zombies, her personality still captive in Willie’s strange world. Finding late acclaim as a newly single writer, she is unable to inhabit her success, lacking Willie’s greater triumphs to lend it scale and meaning.
In journeying from the bright hilltop of bohemian exile to the grim, demonic depths of co-dependency and finally arriving at an equivocal twilit tranquility, there appears to be something appropriately ritualistic and cleansing to The Strange World of Willie Seabrook, an exorcism of sorts. It was Worthington’s last book, and I can only hope purging herself of it brought her some happiness for the last decade of her life. - James J. Conway
Strange World follows two writers in their turbulent relationship and marriage. Seabrook, a renowned writer of the occult, and Worthington, a novelist and short story writer, find themselves caught in Seabrook’s sadist world and his alcoholic, destructive downward spiral. This intense memoir is also a self-reflecting piece on Worthington’s life while married to Seabrook. – Ülrika, for Brazos Bookstore’s Fall Favorites
Explorer, travel writer, occultist and cannibal, Willie Seabrook had the sort of lively CV that one doesn’t see enough of in the literary world these days. Although he is largely forgotten now, Seabrook was a best-seller in his time, credited most notably with introducing the legend of zombies to the popular imagination with his book The Magic Island, published in 1929. The Strange World of Willie Seabrook, written by his long term partner Marjorie Muir Worthington and originally published in 1966, is both a memoir of their lives together and a memorial to a bygone artistic age.
A member of the lost generation, living a bohemian, expatriate lifestyle in the South of France, Seabrook was a contemporary of Gertrude Stein, Ford Madox Ford and Edith Sitwell, although he was not considered in the same league as them artistically: ‘Because of the sensational material in his books, the fact that Willie wrote very well was overlooked by most of the literary critics‘. In some ways, Seabrook is emblematic of the faded promise of ‘that alcohol-and-love-bedimmed era’. He had fought in the First World War, and been gassed at Verdun in 1916, but still showed signs of survivor’s guilt, and even though he and his circle were insulated from the worst effects of the Great Depression (‘in our dream life in the South of France we hardly ever read the newspapers‘), the question of how to respond to the trauma they had lived through was an artistic and psychological challenge:
‘It may have been such an unsettled and problem-filled time in history that writers found it hard to dig into their souls for the timeless stuff of which great novels and plays are made… in fact, if you were a very sensitive writer who had escaped, you felt a deep sense of shame and an obligation to do something. But what?’
The books that Seabrook did produce during this time have a strong sense of escapism, and boy’s own adventure. The likes of Adventures in Arabia and The Magic Carpet were best sellers, ‘hair-raising tales about the Druses and whirling dervishes and the practice of voodoo in Haiti’. In proto-Gonzo style, Seabrook put himself at the heart of his writing; Air Adventure, for example, tells the story of Seabrook and Worthington flying in a light aircraft from Paris to Timbuktu to meet a defrocked priest (Worthington, at one point, almost died when she and her driver got lost in the Sahara Desert, after becoming separated from her partner). Worthington shies away from judging his literary merits, saying simply that ‘I was too close to him, too caught up in that powerful personality, to be a good judge of him as a writer. I only know that he wrote some illuminated passages of prose, and that he was, in his own peculiar way, a dedicated artist‘.
This dedication led Seabrook to engage in some notorious escapades, not least his acquisition of a portion of human flesh to cook, in order to add realism to his depiction of cannibalism.
In farcical circumstances, he is ejected from a series of kitchens, and comes dangerously close to serving up the dish to his eventual host’s vegetarian wife. With a mixture of admiration and forbearance, Worthington remarks that ‘his books on Arabia and Haiti and the jungle, although they may not have been literal truths, were better than that’.
Of course, like any lost generation writer worth his salt, Seabrook was plagued by demons, in the form of alcoholism and violent sexual impulses which threatened to derail his relationships and career alike. Generally, Worthington recalls, Seabrook wrote from 5am until midday, completely sober, and then ‘drank as much as he liked, which was often more than he liked‘. Once again, Worthington identifies a deep need for escape in Seabrook’s behaviour: ‘Willie had experimented with drugs, just as he experimented with anything that would move life above or below the normal and respectable. But he was never drawn to any of them, finding in alcohol, which he consumed in gargantuan proportions, sufficient release from whatever he was trying to escape’.
His passion for life ‘above and below the normal and respectable’ was what drove Seabrook’s writing, and made him a captivating companion. However, his drinking was clearly debilitating, and not exactly conducive to digging into his soul for the timeless stuff of which great novels and plays are made: ‘With dread and an utter sense of inadequacy, I would watch the man whose intelligence and strength I loved turn into a babbling child or idiot. I had seen Willie set out deliberately to get drunk, to celebrate a job of work finished. But this was different. This was to deaden an inner anguish so deep a whole ocean of brandy couldn’t touch it’. Eventually, their life in France had to be abandoned altogether so that Seabrook could attempt to dry out in a series of American hospitals, an experience he would later write up in the style of one of his travel books.
Like many charismatic but troubled artists, Seabrook ‘had a way of making a nice woman feel that he needed her, that she alone could help him get rid of the demons that beset him, his drinking and his sadism‘. Worthington is extremely frank about her partner’s sexuality, and the problems it caused. Early on, she notes that ‘Willie loved women, in spite of a deep-seated hostility to his mother, Myra, that compelled him to make them miserable’. This manifested itself primarily in sadism. Although they were devoted companions for long periods, there was no sexual element to their relationship after its early stages, as ‘love-making, for Willie, was a complicated process, all mixed up with his complexes, fetishes and compulsions’, which Worthington had no desire to play along with.
His activities certainly seem like more of a compulsion than a kink. Psychiatrists ‘related his sexual fantasies to a desire to punish his mother, Myra, for some childish hurt’, but there must also have been a self-destructive impulse. At the height of his fame, Seabrook gave a public lecture on his journeys in Timbuktu while a half-naked sex-worker was suspended by her wrists on the balcony. Later, whilst recovering from his hospitalisation in a wealthy village in upstate New York, and ostensibly researching witchcraft and occult rituals, he courted disaster by engaging in marathon S&M sessions with local girls in a barn. Understandably, all this was a cause of friction with Worthington, who was forced to take on the emotional labour of providing a stable home for her recovering partner, who appears never to have considered the psychological impact his behaviour would have on her: ‘He made no secret of his sexual twist. He wanted people to know about his sadism, and to talk about it. I always felt that it was something private and horrid, to be kept out of sight‘.
The tension that clearly exists between Seabrook and Worthington is the most fascinating aspect of the story. While it may be the accounts of his drinking and sexual mores that draw readers to the book, it is most effective as a thinly veiled portrait of a frustrated female artist being pushed into the background by her dissolute partner.
Early on, during a visit to Gertrude Stein, Worthington is vexed at being left in the company of Miss Toklas, whose role was ‘to entertain the wives of celebrities who came to see [her]… I found it disappointing to be considered a “wife”, because I was a writer too, and I knew a lot more about painting than Willie did’.
Later, we see further examples of Worthington being forced to surrender her own autonomy, as so much of her self is bound up in her relationship to Seabrook: at one point, she says, her love for him was ‘so intricately bound up with my breath I breathed and the blood that channelled its way in and out of my heart that only death could have put an end to it. My death, not his. As different as we were in so many ways, we had become one. I was never to be free of Willie, and, I don’t think, to the very end, he was ever free of me’. Experiencing life without him felt ‘as if I were acting in part of a film, the part with Willie in it having been left on the cutting-room floor’. At other times, when Seabrook is drunk and belligerent, it is she who makes herself psychologically absent: ‘I had cultivated an ability to be present with the body and absent with the spirit‘.
We see Worthington struggle to reconcile her bohemian tastes with an innate ‘bourgeois streak… a mile wide’. This contrary nature makes it possible for her to survive in a world without Seabrook, but also makes the prospect seem unbearable: ‘I had been wondering how I could still be alive without Willie. Now I knew I would go on being alive in a world without heroics, a world full of little overcharges for repassage and laundry!‘ Thus, during Seabrook’s research into witchcraft, ‘I tried to keep things running smoothly, while knowing that in the barn studio some rather nice girl had been persuaded to let herself be hung by a chain from the ceiling‘. Mournfully, Worthingon adds, ‘aside from those nerve-wracking sessions, we were leading what was for us an exemplary and incredibly normal life‘ – playing golf and badminton, and working, in relative sobriety.
Ultimately, it is easy to see Willie Seabrook, charismatic but flawed, successful but self-sabotaging, as an emblem of his generation. While their life together had a sheen of bohemian allure, looking beneath the surface shows two frail and damaged personalities: ‘we were supposed to be ultra-sophisticates, but really we weren’t. Willie always remained seven tenths small boy, and I was often as self-conscious and shy as if I had never left home‘. The stories which captivated readers were in many ways the adventures of an overgrown child, but that child was too haunted by memories of his mother to negotiate adult relationships, or to tap into ‘the timeless stuff of which great novels and plays are made’.
Whilst the book’s cover, featuring a masked and bound woman chained to a jewel-studded throne, promises a story of exotic debauchery, what it actually delivers is quite different. Worthington is certainly frank about Willie Seabrook’s life and adventures, but as her narrative progressed, I found my attention being drawn away from its primary subject, and towards the author herself, trying to build a full psychological picture from the hints provided in her text. Whilst Seabrook’s writing has dated and been forgotten, Worthington’s straightforward, conversational tone is still compellingly readable, a forerunner of today’s confessional memoir. The gender politics, revolving around the emotional labour of supporting a wayward, borderline abusive partner, and a woman’s attempts to pursue an artistic career being deemed secondary to her husband’s, are certainly relevant, even if the experience is more hinted at than outright stated. While the outre details of Seabrook’s life jump off the page, it is the subtle description of Worthington’s own experiences which linger in the reader’s mind when the book is finished, allowing her, finally to step out of Seabrook’s shadow. - Thom Cuell
First things first. I have to take a minute and say thanks to Eva at Spurl, who brought this book to my attention. Spurl is a small press, one that specializes in "unusual literature and photography," and I first heard of this publisher when they came out with Jean Lorrain's Monseiur de Bougrelon last year. They "love the eccentric, the unexpected, the seedy and the absurd" like I do, so it's great match.
Who is Willie Seabrook, you might ask, just as I did. I did a half-hearted search on him just to find out what he'd written, but left it at that since I decided I really didn't want to know anything about him until I'd read this book. Here we get to know Willie Seabrook the author, the traveler, and the adventurer; he was a man with many friends who loved him, a man who knew a veritable who's-who list of famous writers and other colorful characters during his lifetime. However, Marjorie Worthington probably knew him better than anyone. In a very big way, this book is her own story. Her love for Willie she describes as
"something so intricately bound up with the breath I breathed and the blood that channeled its way in and out of my heart that only death could put an into it,"
one, which says "cut myself off from wherever I belonged in order to be with him."
Standing by him with the patience of a saint, finding deep reserves within herself upon which to draw, she documents that "strange world" she lived in with Seabrook, often at great risk to her own sanity, until a time when she just couldn't do it any more. While the story is not pretty, it is compelling enough that I couldn't stop reading it, not so much because of any voyeuristic tendencies I may have, but because in Marjorie we have a woman who wrestled with her own demons while devoting herself to trying to help Willie with his. Written in 1966, the book takes us through Marjorie's years with Willie Seabrook, and then up until his death in 1945. Whether this may be her own way of looking back and taking some measure of blame for his suicide, I'm not sure, although the argument could certainly be made here.
She begins her story in 1926 when they were both in Paris as part of what Gertrude Stein called the "Lost Generation." The "core of her life" as she puts it, was during their seven-year stay in France; it was a time when they met for aperitifs and conversation with people like Ford Madox Ford, Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and Jean Cocteau. There they lived in a small place in Toulon where they both worked on their writing, although they also spent time travelling throughout France. There's a lot of "name dropping," as Marjorie calls it, but we also get a brief glance into Willie's rather strange persona for the first time. On page 19, she refers to Willie's relationship with women, saying that he liked them,
"in spite of a deep-rooted hostility to his mother Myra, that compelled him to make them miserable...Author, traveler, celebrity, he could still look wistful and sort of small boy, and he had a way of making a nice woman feel that he needed her, that she alone could help him get rid of the demons that beset him, his drinking and his sadism." (19)
These twin "demons" of "drinking" and "sadism" will reappear many times throughout Marjorie's account, but more interesting is that after having finished the book, it seems to me that here we have the first clue about how Marjorie sees her own role in Willie's life -- she is that "nice woman" who wanted to feel needed, and with whose help he could exorcise the "demons" in his life. Everything that happens later (up to a point), I believe, comes back to this statement, as Marjorie will take his failures on her own shoulders, making them hers. For example, during the 1930s when Willie began drinking "almost a whole bottle before lunch, and another bottle between the time he awoke from his siesta and nine o'clock at night," to
"deaden some inner anguish that lay so deep a whole ocean of brandy couldn't touch it,"
he came to the decision that he needed to go to New York, "to be shut up someplace 'behind bars' where he couldn't get a drink for love or money." In Marjorie's eyes, she "had failed" because she "could not help him stop drinking," and she viewed Willie's decision to leave for New York as a way of him telling her that the two of them "weren't good for each other," that she was "the last one to help him stop drinking," and that together they'd "made a fine mess" of both their lives.
She also came to believe that while they were "physically drawn together," she had also failed when it came to taming Willie's other demon, manifested in the women who were paid for hours to allow him to put them in chains while he took sadistic pleasure in their pain. She referred to these women by the "generic name" of Lizzie in Chains, and while she hated it, she put up with it, once in a while even obliging him herself.
|Willie Seabrook and Lee Miller, taken by Man Ray, c. 1930. From "The Zombie King," by Emily Matchar, Atavist Magazine.|
"had always kept some tiny thread of hope that one day Willie, who I believed could do anything, would be able to slay his evil demon before it destroyed him." (293)
Things did seem to be on target for better lives after Willie's treatment for his alcoholism -- he was sober again, they married, he was writing, and they even bought a place in New York out in the country to take on "a new kind of life." But even for a woman whose patience seemed to know no bounds, and despite her life devoted to this man, Marjorie eventually came to discover that she had a breaking point, a realization that likely saved her in the process.
The Strange World of Willie Seabrook was written twenty years after Seabrook committed suicide. It is haunting, and between these two covers we find not only a lot of soul searching on the author's part, but also a picture of Seabrook as she knew him, a deeply-flawed, severely-troubled human being who seemed destined for self destruction. At the same time she leaves us with the idea that he was a
"fine, intelligent, and lovable man, with a touch of genius as well as madness,"
and that he inspired "deep and indestructible love" among those who "tried to help but were not successful." Perhaps Marjorie should have realized that the possibility looms large that Willie never really wanted help, saving herself a whole load of grief much earlier on.
very highly recommended and major, major applause to Spurl for bringing this book back into print.
- Nancy Oakes, The Real Stuff
This is a curious book. Marjorie Worthington (1900–1976) was the second wife of William Seabrook, an obscure figure today, known—if at all—as much for the lurid details of his life as for his books. In the 1920s and 1930s Seabrook was a well-regarded and very popular writer, delivering to the American public reports of his travels in the dangerous and exotic parts of the globe. Worthington was a writer herself, the author of novels, short stories and biographies, in addition to this memoir, her final major work. By the time The Strange World of Willie Seabrook appeared in 1966 Worthington’s subject was largely forgotten, his exploits eclipsed by wilder figures, while the “unexplored” areas of the world whose exotic lure had fuelled much of his writing were no longer so distant or so strange in a world of continental travel. Seabrook wasn’t completely forgotten at this time; I knew his name, if little else, from a paperback of Voodoo Island that my parents owned. This was a retitled reprint of The Magic Island (1929), a best-selling study of Haiti and its voodoo culture which, among other things, popularised the concept of the zombie.
Seabrook’s name is hard to avoid if you’re reading about witchcraft or the occult in the first half of the 20th century. Aleister Crowley knew him and mentions him in his autobiography, while Crowley is discussed in Seabrook’s Witchcraft: Its Power in the World Today (1940). Crowley’s attitude towards Seabrook seems to have soured in later years, possibly because of some perceived slight or betrayal. The two men have a lot in common: both were the same generation (Crowley was born in 1875; Seabrook in 1884), both were addicts (Seabrook’s demon was alcohol), and both were fascinated by the outer limits of human experience. In Seabrook’s case this famously extended to eating human flesh, an experience he recounted in the follow-up to The Magic Island, Jungle Ways (1930). Marjorie Worthington gives a detailed account of this episode which was much more mundane than Seabrook’s printed version. When the African feast failed to materialise Seabrook decided to keep the incident in the book even if it meant staging a cannibal meal in Paris. One of the fascinating things about Worthington’s memoir is the frequent lurches of tone when Seabrook disrupts their generally placid domesticity with a hare-brained inspiration. If this makes him sound like an Jazz Age Hunter S. Thompson he wasn’t quite as mercurial, but the cannibal episode has a trace of the gonzo as the pair race around Paris one evening, looking for a convenient stove where Seabrook can cook the “rare goat meat” a friend has procured from a Paris hospital.
Worthington logs these and similar exploits with dismay, and one of the many curious aspects of her memoir is the unexamined nature of the attraction between herself and “Willie” as she calls him. Their relationship was an unusual one from the outset. Seabrook and Worthington were both married to other partners before they met; Worthington fell in love almost immediately but rather than go through the usual adulterous games the four people simply swapped partners and went on their way, all still married but now living with their opposite numbers. Worthington remained in love with Seabrook even though they were sexually incompatible, Seabrook having an obsession with bondage games whose outlet was provided by compliant women hired for the purpose. Worthington tried to be understanding but Seabrook’s fetishes and recurrent alcoholism strained their relationship, despite their mutual dependence. One of the ironies of the book is that Worthington recounts her abhorrence each time Seabrook retires to the barn for an endurance session with one of his new women but offers little detail as to what took place. This has the effect of stoking the reader’s curiosity which could hardly have been her intention. Seabrook told her he was interested in the mental effects caused by his bondage experiments—we see a photograph of one session on the cover of the new edition from Spurl—but the sexual dimension remains undiscussed.
The Strange World of Willie Seabrook isn’t an account of continual torment, however. Seabrook had many successful years, and the pair were friends with Jean Cocteau, Man Ray, Aldous Huxley, the Astors and others. One of the best parts of the book concerns a journey by plane from Paris to Timbuktu at a time when international air travel was still a difficult and dangerous business. Worthington’s account of a noisy flight across the Sahara in a cramped aircraft that could only fly during the day makes contemporary moans about air travel seem like the whining of spoiled children. Her narrative comes alive when it assumes the character of travel writing, and she writes evocatively about her experience of the Sahara Desert. I’d have preferred more along these lines but for this it may be necessary to turn to Seabrook’s own works of the period, Air Adventure (1933) and The White Monk of Timbuctoo (1934). John Coulthart, feuilleton