… one Crowley, a person of unspeakable life …(W. B. Yeats, letter to Lady Gregory, 28 April 1900)
In this chapter, I will retrace the salient moments in the life of Aleister Crowley. But first I would like to make a few remarks about sources, which are made necessary by the peculiarity of the subject. Crowley has attracted the attention of a good number of authors, and in the last sixty years a good number of biographies and monographs devoted to him have been published.
John Symonds (1914–2006), whom Crowley himself designated as his literary executor, is the author of the biography considered by many as the “standard” one. Crowley, before his death, allegedly asked Symonds to take care of the publication of his unpublished works and of preparing new editions of those published during his life, also giving him the task of making sure that his wishes concerning the revenues from the copyright would be respected. By virtue of this, after Crowley's death, Symonds had the opportunity to look through all his manuscripts, original documents, diaries and letters; and his reconstruction was based on this material. Between 1951 and 1997, Symonds's biography went through several editions, often with changes and added material. Practically everyone who has taken any kind of interest in Crowley has referred to Symonds's work. However, it certainly has its critics – sometimes very harsh, too, and usually from “Crowleyan” milieus.
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