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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

Unheimlich Thoughts from Abroad
tree_face
steepholm
In the midst of the isolation of war-time a number of the English Strand Magazine fell into my hands; and, amongst other not very interesting matter, I read a story about a young married couple, who move into a furnished flat in which there is a curiously shaped table with carvings of crocodiles on it...


Thus Freud, writing his essay on "The Uncanny" in 1919. I tracked down the story in question, which turns out to be called "Inexplicable" by L. G. Moberly and was published in The Strand in 1917. Freud describes it as "a thoroughly silly story" but adds that "the uncanny feeling it produced was quite remarkable." It's an example of an obliquely ghostly genre that was very popular at the time, though no more than a journeyman piece. I wish I could have pressed a copy of M. R. James or even E. F. Benson into Freud's hands, with a cry of "You call that uncanny? This is uncanny." Would a reading of "Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad" have affected Freud's conclusions about the unheimlich, I wonder?

Mostly, though, I wonder how Freud got hold of that copy of The Strand magazine. By his own account it must have been between its publication in 1917 and the end of the war. Since he was living in an enemy capital, how did that happen? Also, it seems likely that he no longer possessed it in 1919 when he came to write his essay, for he misremembers the alligators on the table as crocodiles. It's uncanny - but not, perhaps, inexplicable. The obvious inference is that Freud was involved in some kind of espionage, and that secret messages were being conveyed between London and Vienna by means of underlined words in The Strand. No doubt, once he had decrypted them, he was required to burn the evidence - probably with one of his trademark cigars. What is certain is that the Armistice followed soon after. Can we doubt that it was brought about, in part, with the unwitting assistance of L. G. Moberly?

I don't know for sure, but it seems at least as likely as some of Freud's own inferences.