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Studies in Hand-Reading

  • Kind of Object:
    Book
  • Name:
    Studies in Hand-Reading

    Word Count: 3

  • Creator (Person):
    Charlotte Wolff
  • Year Start:
    1936
  • Year End:
    1936
  • Known addresses in Metromod cities:

    Chatto & Windus, 40–42 William IV Street, Charing Cross, London WC2.

  • Language:
    English
  • City:
    London (GB)
  • Introduction:

    In 1936, Charlotte Wolff’s Studies in Hand-Reading was published with analysis of the palms of Horst P. Horst, Aldous and Julian Huxley, Man Ray and Virginia Woolf, among others.

    Word Count: 29

  • Content:

    In 1936, the book Studies in Hand-Reading was published by Chatto & Windus, marking a transition in the author’s life. Charlotte Wolff wrote the book while still in exile in Paris and emigrated to London in the year of its publication. The city where Chatto & Windus had been based for decades was to become Wolff’s new home.
    Charlotte Wolff (1897–1986) was actually a medical doctor and worked in a family planning clinic in Berlin until, as a Jew, she was banned from working after the National Socialists came to power. She fled to Paris. Through Helen Hessel and Sybille von Schönebeck (Sybille Bedford), Wolff became acquainted with the writer Aldous Huxley and his wife Maria Huxley in Sanary-sur-Mer. Both were interested in the palmistry practised by Charlotte Wolff, who had taken a course in chirology with the palm reader Julius Spier in Berlin before her exile.
    Wolff writes: “Spier understood that the hand is like a map from which one can diagnose character traits and certain health conditions. [...] He was self-taught and trained neither in psychology nor in medicine. Nevertheless, we gained enough knowledge to understand that the human hand can be an important diagnostic tool.” (Wolff 1982, 126, translated from German) Since Wolff was not allowed to practise medicine in France, she turned to palmistry and the scientific study of hand characteristics. In collaboration with psychiatrists and endocrinologists, she began to investigate the relationship between the psyche and hands and hormones and hands (ibid., 135). Charlotte Wolff began to carry out private hand analyses for financial gain; her clients soon included writers, artists and aristocrats. Wolff read Balthus’s hand and came into contact with the circle of artists around Picasso at the Café de Flore, where she met the Surrealist writer André Breton. The Surrealists, with their interest in the supernatural, the unconscious and the uncontrollable, were particularly fascinated by palmistry. In 1935, Wolff published her article “Les Révélations Psychologiques de la Main” in the surrealist journal Minotaure (Wolff 1982, 143).

    In 1936, Wolff published her book Studies in Hand-Reading with Chatto & Windus. Chatto & Windus was a British publishing house with a long tradition, active since 1855, first in Piccadilly and from 1935 at 40–42 William IV Street in Charing Cross. Chatto & Windus published books by Mark Twain, William Faulkner, H.G. Wells and Samuel Becket, and also provided a publishing home for the brothers Aldous and Julian Huxley. Aldous Huxley published his classic Brave New World (1932) and The Olive Tree, and Other Essays (1935) with Chatto & Windus. His brother, the zoologist Julian Huxley published, among other books, Ants (1935) and Africa View (1936). Chatto & Windus also published monographic and thematic photo books, such as E.O. Hoppé’s The Image of London. A hundred photos (1935) and London by Night. A Century of Photographs (1935) by Francis Sandwith. Charlotte Wolff’s Studies in Hand-Reading fitted very well into this panorama of sophisticated fiction and photographic literature, as it offered hand studies of artists and writers in text and images. Her contact with Chatto & Windus came through Aldous Huxley. The writer also wrote a preface to the book and Wolff read his palm as well as those of the writer Virginia Woolf, the actor Antonin Artaud and Aldous Huxley’s brother, the zoologist Julian Huxley, among others. Drawings of the Huxley brothers’ palms are reproduced and captioned side by side in the book, then followed by a comparative analysis. According to Wolff, Julian Huxley’s palm shows him to be a rational, nature-loving character, while Aldous is more of an “abstract idealist” (Wolff 1936, 79). In Julian Huxley, Wolff also recognised a particular affinity with sound – here interesting connections open up with one of Huxley’s next major projects, his soundbook Animal Language (1938).

    Wolff distanced herself from such supernatural practices as clairvoyance and palm fortune-telling (Rappold, 49). So it was not about predicting the future, but about the close connection between physique, psyche, health, character and behaviour. In his preface, Aldous Huxley writes that “accomplished chirologists, like Dr. Wolff, do succeed in finding out a great deal about the health, the character and history of the people whose hands they examine.” (Huxley 1936, xiv). Wolff’s study of the palm of photographer Horst P. Horst led her to write: “Horst’s artistic talent lies in his extreme adaptability. He is extraordinary skilful with his hands, and he has an innate feeling for arrangement, where his imaginative powers express themselves most strongly.” (Wolff 1936, 121). At the same time, the text contains an undisguised reference to Horst’s homosexuality: “Horst has all the dangers and advantages of a man who lives according to relative conditions, both artistically and in his contacts with other men.” (ibid.). The text begins with the photographer’s drawn hand and concludes with a print of his inked hand, which can now – after reading Wolff’s analysis – be inspected more closely.
    The frontispiece of Studies in Hand-Reading is illustrated with a photograph by Man Ray showing Charlotte Wolff in profile holding a pair of hands, the backs of which she is looking at. This extends the art of palm reading to the entire hand and, at the same time, conveys the message that a person’s personality and life are reflected in his or her hands. The owner of the hands remains invisible in Man Ray’s photograph.

    After Charlotte Wolff emigrated to London in 1936, she was able to realise a long-cherished plan to extend palmistry to primates (Wolff 1982, 134). In the director of the London Zoo, Julian Huxley, Wolff found a willing collaborator, who, as a convinced Darwinist, was interested in the common origin of apes and humans. Wolff applied chirology to the primates at London Zoo, using elaborate imprinting techniques for her project. She published her results in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London (Wolff 1937; Wolff 1938). An article also appeared in The Listener magazine on 27 October 1937 (see Brennan 2011, 11).
    Wolff continued her interest in the interpretation of hands. In 1942, her book The Human Hand was published, in which she dealt with the psychological interpretation of hands and gestures. It also included the handprint of a newborn baby that Wolff had taken in a maternity ward of a hospital in Paris (Wolff 1978, 134). This was followed in 1945 by the publication A Psychology of Gesture.

    Charlotte Wolff was also active in sexual research. She not only lived openly as a homosexual, but also wrote about it in her autobiography (Wolff 1982). She also published studies on homosexuality among women, such as Love between Women (1971). Her study Bisexuality followed in 1977. In her book on Magnus Hirschfeld and his Institute for Sexual Sciences, Wolff recalled a pioneer of sexual research who – like herself – had to go into exile. In the introduction to Magnus Hirschfeld. A Portrait of a Pioneer in Sexology (1986), Wolff recounts how she discovered his work only many years after his death: “I could have known him personally when, in 1928, I was a physician at the family planning clinic set up by the Allgemeine Krankenkassen Berlin’s. Similar work had been done at the Institute for Sexual Science for several years, but neither I nor my colleagues of other clinics for birth control had any contact with Hirschfeld. The obvious link with him through my recent research on sexuality occurred to me only as an afterthought.” (Wolff 1986, 8) In 1978, on her first visit to Germany since her emigration, Charlotte Wolff began researching Hirschfeld and his work in Berlin. She returned to Germany again and again in the following years. So it seems that Wolff’s work with a contemporary and exile brought her back into contact with her country of origin. Her weighty Hirschfeld biography of almost 500 pages may have contributed considerably to making the sexologist better known in the English-speaking world. Charlotte Wolff died in 1986, the year the book on Magnus Hirschfeld, her last, was published.

    In 2015, A Study in Hand-Reading: Charlotte Wolff, an exhibition by the artist Valentina Desideri, opened at Kunstverein Amsterdam. For a month, a social space was created in which literary figures and artists carried out readings on artists’ handprints as well as poetry. Desideri described Wolff on the project’s homepage as: “Charlotte Wolff (1897-1986): scientist, radical sexologist, chirologist, philosopher, wearer of men's clothes, psychologist of gesture, lesbian identified” (http://handreadingstudio.org). This description is adapted from Christian Hawkey’s text “N Ear Flowers Re Fre/nd: A Poets’ Play” (2013). Hawkey’s theatre poem and Disderi’s project illustrate that Charlotte Wolff’s seminal work on palmreading, queerness and sexuality is being rediscovered in the literary and artistic present.

    Word Count: 1416

  • Signature Image:
    Charlotte Wolff. Studies in Hand-Reading. Chatto & Windus, 1936, p. 77: Julian Huxley (A Comparative Study): the hands of Aldous and Julian Huxley (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933–1945, Frankfurt am Main).
  • Media:
    Charlotte Wolff. Studies in Hand-Reading. Chatto & Windus, 1936, bastard title (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933–1945, Frankfurt am Main).
    Charlotte Wolff. Studies in Hand-Reading. Chatto & Windus, 1936, p. 81: Julien Green (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933–1945, Frankfurt am Main).
    Charlotte Wolff. Studies in Hand-Reading. Chatto & Windus, 1936, p. 117: Herman Schryver (Interior Decorator) (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933–1945, Frankfurt am Main).
    Charlotte Wolff. Studies in Hand-Reading. Chatto & Windus, 1936, n.p.: hand of Herman Schryver (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933–1945, Frankfurt am Main).
    Charlotte Wolff. Studies in Hand-Reading. Chatto & Windus, 1936, p. 119: Man Ray (Photographer) (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933–1945, Frankfurt am Main).
    Charlotte Wolff. Studies in Hand-Reading. Chatto & Windus, 1936, n.p.: hand of Man Ray (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933–1945, Frankfurt am Main).
    Charlotte Wolff. Studies in Hand-Reading. Chatto & Windus, 1936, p. 121: Horst [P. Horst] (Photographer) (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933–1945, Frankfurt am Main).
    Charlotte Wolff. Studies in Hand-Reading. Chatto & Windus, 1936, n.p.: hand of Horst [P. Horst] (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933–1945, Frankfurt am Main).
    Charlotte Wolff. “The Form and Dermatoglyphs of the Hands and Feet of certain Anthropoid Apes”. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, Series A, 1937, Part 3, 347 + Plate (Library of the Zoological Institute, University of Hamburg). At the zoo’s behest, Charlotte Wolff applied chirology to the primates at London Zoo.
  • Bibliography (selected):

    Brennan, Toni Lee. Charlotte Wolff’s contribution to psychology and to the history of sexuality (doctoral thesis). University of Surrey, 2011. Surrey Research Insight Open Access, http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/id/eprint/843115. Accessed 25 March 2021.

    Desideri, Valentina. Handreading Studies. Kunstverein Publishing, 2018.

    Hawkey, Christian. “N Ear Flowers Re Fre/nd: A Poets’ Play.” Floor journal, no. 2, 10 October 2013, http://floorjournal.com/2013/10/10/n-ear-flowers-re-frend-a-poets-play/. Accessed 12 March 2021.

    Rappold, Claudia. Charlotte Wolff (1897–1986). Ärztin, Psychotherapeutin, Wissenschaftlerin und Schriftstellerin. Hentrich und Hentrich, 2005.

    Wolff, Charlotte. Studies in Hand-Reading. Translated by O.M. Cook, Chatto & Windus, 1936.

    Wolff, Charlotte. “The Form and Dermatoglyphs of the Hands and Feet of certain Anthropoid Apes.” Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, vol. 107, Series A, Part 3, September 1937, pp. 347–350. ZSL, doi: doi.org/10.1111/j.1096-3642.1937.tb00816.x. Accessed 7 March 2021.

    Wolff, Charlotte. “A Comparative Study of the Form and Dermatoglyphs of the Extremities
    of Primates.” Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, vol. 108, Series A, Part 1, April 1938, pp. 143–161. ZSL, doi: doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-7998.1938.tb00025.x. Accessed 7 March 2021.

    Wolff, Charlotte. The Human Hand. Methuen, 1942.

    Wolff, Charlotte. A Psychology of Gesture. Methuen, 1945.

    Wolff, Charlotte. Love between Women. Gerald Duckworth, 1971.

    Wolff, Charlotte. Bisexuality. A Study. Quartet, 1977.

    Wolff, Charlotte. Augenblicke verändern uns mehr als die Zeit. Eine Autobiographie. Translated by Michaela Huber, Beltz Verlag, 1982.

    Wolff, Charlotte. Magnus Hirschfeld. A Portrait of a Pioneer in Sexology. Quartet, 1986.

    Word Count: 217

  • Archives and Sources:

    Word Count: 6

  • Author:
    Burcu Dogramaci
  • Metropolis:
    London
  • Entry in process:
    no
  • Burcu Dogramaci. "Studies in Hand-Reading." METROMOD Archive, 2021, https://archive.metromod.net/viewer.p/69/1470/object/5140-11260535, last modified: 01-05-2021.
  • Julian Huxley
    ZoologistPhilosopherWriter

    Julian Huxley was the director of London Zoo from 1935 to 1942 and worked closely with emigrant photographers, artists and architects, including Berthold Lubetkin, Erna Pinner and Wolf Suschitzky.

    Word Count: 27

    Editorial by Julian Huxley in the first issue of Animal and Zoo Magazine, no. 1, 1936, p. 6 (METROMOD Archive).
    Charlotte Wolff. Studies in Hand-Reading. Chatto & Windus, 1936, p. 77: Reading Julian and Aldous Huxley’s hands (Deutsche Nationalbibliothek, Deutsches Exilarchiv 1933–1945, Frankfurt am Main).Charlotte Wolff. “The Form and Dermatoglyphs of the Hands and Feet of certain Anthropoid Apes”. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, Series A, 1937, Part 3, 347 + Plate (Library of the Zoological Institute, University of Hamburg). At the zoo’s behest, Charlotte Wolff applied chirology to the primates at London Zoo.“Young Artists in the Zoo” reads the headline to this photo essay on the Animal Art Studio at London Zoo, published in the Animal and Zoo Magazine, vol. 2, no. 11, 1938, p. 18–19 (METROMOD Archive).Julian Huxley and Ludwig Koch. Animal Language. Photographs by Ylla. Country Life, 1938, cover (METROMOD Archive). Two records of animal voices were included with this sound book.Erna Pinner. “Map of geographical distribution.” Julian S. Huxley. Zoo. Official Guide to the Gardens and Aquarium of the Zoological Society of London, 1937, pp. 102–103 (ZSL Library, London, Original © Erna Pinner).Julian Huxley and Wolf Suschitzky. Kingdom of the Beasts. Thames & Hudson, 1956, pp. 157–158 (© The Estate of Wolfgang Suschitzky)László Moholy-Nagy, Bill of Fare, farewell dinner menu for Walter Gropius, London, March 1937: List of Toasts naming Julian Huxley as chairman of the event (Pritchard Papers, University of East Anglia, @ László Moholy-Nagy).
    London
    Animal Language
    Sound Book

    In 1938, the London publisher Country Life published the Animal Language sound book which featured text by Julian Huxley, audio records produced by Ludwig Koch and photographs by Ylla.

    Word Count: 28

    Julian Huxley and Ludwig Koch. Animal Language. Photographs by Ylla. Country Life, 1938, cover (METROMOD Archive). Two records of animal voices were included with this sound book.
    Julian Huxley and Ludwig Koch. Animal Language. Photographs by Ylla. Country Life, 1938, p. xi: Ludwig Koch plays recordings of their own voices to the zoo animals (METROMOD Archive).Julian Huxley and Ludwig Koch. Animal Language. Photographs by Ylla. Country Life, 1938, p. 13: Bactrian Camel (METROMOD Archive).Julian Huxley and Ludwig Koch. Animal Language. Photographs by Ylla. Country Life, 1938, p. 15: Mandrill (METROMOD Archive).Julian Huxley and Ludwig Koch. Animal Language. Photographs by Ylla. Country Life, 1938, p. 52: Zebra (METROMOD Archive).Julian Huxley and Ludwig Koch. Animal Language. Photographs by Ylla. Country Life, 1938, two records included with the book (METROMOD Archive).
    London