The Cottingley Fairies, and Fatima

Arthur Conan Doyle once wrote that the idea of an acceptable form of public entertainment underwent a rude shock in the years around World War I.  By then in his mid-50’s, he had abandoned any pretense of sympathy for modern culture.  In particular, Conan Doyle shrank from the more proscriptive plays of Henrik Ibsen, as well as the “organized din” of Gustav Mahler and the perceived decadence of conceptual painters such as Marcel Duchamp and Edvard Munch.  In time, he would go on to support the Conservative government’s proposals for greater powers of artistic censorship.  Doyle’s idea of a good writer remained the likes of Thomas Hardy, Winston Churchill, or Rudyard Kipling, the last of whom he called “England articulate.”

To many in wartime Britain, however, the greatest jolt to the established order wasn’t the advent of Cubism, or such eye-catching developments as the works of Mondrian and Picasso, or Stravinsky’s ballets, or the more kinetic rhythms of black dance bands accompanied by uninhibited young women in Scheherazade skirts.  Nor was it the arrival on the London stage of George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, with its scandalous use of the word bloody.  The subject of most news commentary wasn’t a public entertainment at all, though it may be argued that, over time, it became one.  Rather, it was a 3,000-word...

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