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Francis Wheen


Book review by Anthony Campbell. Copyright © Anthony Campbell (2002).

In 1971 an academic from Budapest, Dr Charlotte Bach, put an advertisement in The Times to announce her new theory of evolution, which she claimed largely disproved Darwinism and vindicated Lamarckism. The theory was based on her view of trans-sexuality. (Perhaps mercifully, Wheen provides few further details of this.) The announcement led to an invitation to Dr Bach to speak at Darwin College, Cambridge. The lecture was not a success but nevertheless some people, notably the author Colin Wilson, later became impressed by the lady and her theory. She sent her manuscript to him, and in spite of the fact that it was very long, difficult, and typed entirely in capital letters on yellow paper, he struggled through it. So impressed was he, in fact, that he did his best to publicize her ideas, which he thought compared in importance to those of Einstein and Newton.

In spite of Wilson's endorsement, Dr Bach's theory did not achieve wide renown, but she became a cult figure for a group of devotees who made regular pilgrimages to her flat in Highgate where she held court in the intervals of continuing to add to her already voluminous manuscript. When she died of liver cancer in 1981, however, a postmortem revealed that she was, in fact, a man. Some of her friends were appalled but others, such as Colin Wilson, thought it hilarious.

In this short book Francis Wheen tells the remarkable story of Bach's life. He was born Karoly Hajdu in a working-class town near Budapest in 1920, but throughout his life he continued to reinvent himself in different guises. He also awarded himself the title of baron. He taught himself excellent English and came to England in 1948, taking the name of Michael Karoly. Here his career included spells as an agony aunt, entrepreneur, prostitute, hypnotherapist, and dominatrix; sometimes he was male (and got married as a man), sometimes female, but as time went by he spent more and more time in the female role until his final transmutation into Charlotte.

Wheen has provided us with a delightful account of one of the more extraordinary figures to have graced the twentieth century. The book is short, which is reasonable given the complete unimportance of its subject's life and ideas except as a demonstration of the extraordinary variety of human personality. There are numerous pictures of Karoly/Bach in his/her various incarnations.

%T Who was Dr Charlotte Bach?
%A Wheen, Francis
%I Short Books
%C London
%D 2002
%G ISBN 1-904095-39-9
%P 141 pp
%K biography
%O illustrated
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