Ruth Brandon | The Life And Many Deaths Of Harry Houdini
Everyone has heard of Harry Houdini. Over 60 years after his death, his death-defying escapes still inspire imitators and ad-men. When we think of Houdini, we think of a small man, manacled, jumping off a bridge into icy water, suspended from a skyscraper or emerging, seemingly against the odds, from a sealed coffin. His tricks, and they usually were tricks, were very clever and effective, but the author argues that the man himself was far more interesting than they were.
Brandon examines the phenomenon of fame - what is it that compels a man to perform acts of near-suicidal bravado to gain public acclaim, and what is it that draws vast crowds of people to watch? She considers the nature of a man whom she believes was probably sexually repressed, and yet performed almost naked draped in chains and manacles, who wrote love letters to his wife - who was in another room - five times a day, and who struggled obsessively for years to prove or disprove the existence of life after death.
Brandon argues that it is in the death that the key to Houdini's life, and success, is to be found. More complex than simply seeing a small man triumph against the odds, she claims that his escapes can be read as drama of death and resurrection, a signal, perhaps, that one can return from the other side. By the author of "The New Women and the Old Men", and "Being Divine".