We’re away until January 2, but we’re reposting some of our favorite pieces from 2018. Enjoy your holiday!
In the spring of 1923, the young married artists Jean and Valentine Hugo began inviting people to séances at their Paris apartment. A new mood of occultism, influenced by Freud and the early Surrealists, was in the air. And raising the dead was in Jean’s blood: while his great-grandfather, Victor Hugo, was in exile in the 1850s, he presided over frequent “table-rapping” sessions on the Channel Islands. As Victor Hugo recorded in four red notebooks, his “talking table” conducted conversations with such eager spirits as Jesus, Moses, Dante, and Shakespeare—the last of whom, obligingly, concurred with Hugo’s assessment of himself as the greatest writer of all time. Jean and Valentine’s gatherings, however, elicited messages so chilling that the group, spooked, abandoned the practice after only a few tries. It wasn’t an overreaction; before the year’s end, the omens they’d received in their séances were borne out.