Lionel and Marianne

A Pscyhiatric Interpretation

Previously unpublished, 1982. Originally written for Trevor H. Hall's Marianne Foyster of Borley Rector. Due to misunderstandings between Slater and Hall (see Letters to and from Trevor H. Hall), the present chapter was rejected for publication. Hall's book itself was never published, also due to the fact that the subject of his work was still alive.

Marianne Foyster played a key role in the strange story of the haunting of Borley Rectory. The late Harry Price succeeded in persuading a large readership of intelligent and well educated people that phenomena of a supernatural kind had occurred at the Rectory. And a belief in their genuineness has in certain circles survived the exposure by Dr. Hall and his colleagues, Dr. Dingwall and Mrs. Goldney. In their book, The Haunting of Borley Rectory (1956), these workers showed that the allegedly psychic phenomena were accountable in every case as the effects of natural causes or human agency. Nevertheless publicity for the "Ghosts of Borley" still continued. There was a danger that superstitious be­liefs might persist and find their way into the literature of occultism as authentic historical evidence. The provenance, the character and the life history of Marianne Foyster became an important issue. Dr. Hall's researches, pursued over many years at great cost in labour and time, have brought to light a mass of facts. They constitute a case record of great psychiatric interest. Marianne Foyster was a very unusual woman. Dr. Hall has pieced together, like a jigsaw puzzle, a picture of her which is complete in all its salient features, and much of its detail.

   The facts are there, reported with exactitude, as his researches extended forwards and backwards in time, to cover her life from childhood to extreme old age. Nevertheless the facts are so extraordinary that now and again he pauses and asks: Why Marianne behaved like this? How could her husband have reconciled himself to such and such a situation? What were the motivations that underlay events whose complex action extends over generations? When Dr. Hall gave me his manuscript to read, I could not but take his questions as a challenge. In the following pages I respond to them, knowing only the facts as they are so painstakingly and precisely recorded, and using only the special kind of under­standing with which the work of a psychiatrist gradually endows him. In the following pages I try to answer Dr. Hall's questions. My answers are speculat­ive. They are as fallible as those of any other student of human nature would be. They do not always agree with Dr. Hall's own well‑considered views. They certainly are not cogent since, not being amenable to either confirmation or re­futation, they can with equal propriety he accepted or dismissed. But the crit­ical reader, if he rejects any answer of mine, is challenged to find another of his own. Moreover he must find one which will fit unforced into a coherent pic­ture with all the other answers that have to be found.

   The history of Lionel and Marianne is a psychiatric object‑lesson. It is also a strange real‑life romance of a unique quality. Marianne Foyster, one cannot deny it, was a criminal. Lionel Foyster aided and abetted her. She did many wicked things. In the end she redeemed herself. Nature may make a human being of incompatible materials that fit together very awkwardly. The life story may then take shape in self‑contradictions. The science of medicine would get nowhere without one foot based on pathology. It is from the study of the anomalous that we learn the laws that govern everyday.



    All his life Lionel was a man of love and kindness. He was especially fond of children. Unfortunately he never had children of his own. But his married life was made happier by a succession of adopted children, Adelaide and John and Astrid, and by other children invited into the home such as Ian, and the Fenton children, and little Francois d'Arles. He liked people and never thought ill of anybody. And he loved his wife beyond measure. Re­sentment, anger, malice were unknown to him. There was no injury, no insult that he could not forgive. But such universal loving‑kindness needs strength and power and dignity to support it. These were qualities that Lionel did not have. If he had been so endowed he would have been a saint. As it was, his weakness betrayed him into futility; and his incapacity to exercise any control or even a moderating influence over his wife led to the wreck of many lives.

   Lionel Algernon Foyster was born on the 7th January 1878, the fourth son of the Rev. George Alfred Foyster. He was one of seven eons and two daugh­ters. With three more sons and a daughter still to come, the family went on growing for some years after Lionel arrived. His mother Adelaide must have been quite young when she married in 1866. The Rev. George was then thirty years old or so. On both the father's and the mother's side the families were people of wealth, consequence and the most respectable ancestry. The Foyster great‑grandfather was a gentleman who secured a grant of arms from the College of Arms in 1784. There was a century of gentility for Lionel to live up to. And there were so many connections with the Established Church that the odour of sanctity in the Foyster home must have been overpowering. The Rev,. George was fortytwo years older than Lionel, and would have been a rather terrifying figure to a little boy of Lionel's gentle, affectionate and timid disposition. As he grew into adolescence and early manhood, his father must have seemed ever more patriarchal. Lionel called his first little daughter by adoption Adelaide, his mother's name. We may think that he got some love from her. Perhaps of all the family he was the mother's boy, and perhaps in the eyes of his father and his brothers a bit of a milksop. He was the only one of the sons to take holy orders. Perhaps ‑ again, we can only speculate ‑ the six others had the strength of mind to choose other careers than those of their uncles and father and grandfather.

   We need to form an imaginative picture of that household. It was the heyday of the late Victorian paterfamilias, seen at his most terrible in a cler­ical family. Lionel's pathetic life‑story was rooted in his childhood in that home. For a model we can go to Samuel Butler's The Way of All Flesh. Butler wrote this novel between 1872 and 1884, but the action of the story is placed a generation earlier. The book was only published in 1903, after Butler's death. We meet the Rev, Theobald Pontifex and his wife Christina. The tyrannical clerical father and the saccharine mother had the right, indeed the moral duty, to make life a purgatory for their children. Inquisition, moral blackmail, guilt, confession, punishment and self‑reproach distorted normal emotional development in the child and frustrated his natural impulses. In that stuffy claustrophobic world the sexual impulses were consistently driven underground. Their eldest child, Ernest, grows up to become a clergyman. He makes a sexual assault on a frightened girl, and is sent to prison. It is only in prison and thereafter that he grows up.

   We do not indeed know, as a matter of ascertained fact, that Lionel had such a childhood. But in a seaside watering place, such as Hastings, in the family of a very prosperous minister of the Established Church, in the 1880s and 1890s, it would be unreasonable to suppose that Lionel's childhood was so very different. His later history puts it beyond doubt that he was an emotionally maimed personality. Though a man of culture and intellect, he was as suggestible and credulous as a child. Of all the brothers he may have been by the fluke of heredity the least endowed in strength of will and firm­ness of character. But it seems likely that a harsh upbringing helped to rob him of self‑confidence. Its worst effect was to thwart psychosexual development and practically to strip him of masculinity. His affectionate nature was capable of lasting and tender love which survived every humilia­tion; but it was not capable of the passion which could be the foundation of an adequate sexual relationship. The roots of normal sex life had been withered in childhood.

   Lionel's career began well enough, with public school and Pembroke College, Cambridge. He got his BA in 1900, and went on to finish his studies at a theological college. He was ordained a deacon in 1903, a priest in 1904, and in 1907 he proceeded to his MA. Up till about 1903 his future had looked secure. If the family pattern was to be followed, he would join his father as curate; and when his father retired, he would himself become Rector. But his father chose to break the line of succession. He never took Lionel as his curate; and to put the living of All Saints beyond his son's reach, he resigned in 1904 and permitted the patronage to revert to the bishop. He would not help Lionel himself, and he would not leave it within the power of the family to advance him. For the conservative, traditionally clerical family we have in mind the behaviour of the Rev. George is extraordinary. It seems to betoken a medley of painful emotions: grief, disappointment, indignation indeed, but more than that, anger and resentment. Something very terrible must have happened. Lionel must have done something. He must have been found out in an act, a piece of behaviour, a sin so grave, indicating such depravity of character that it could never be forgiven. The family itself was disgraced. The Rev. George, it seems, felt that he too was dishonoured, and could no longer hold his head high in the face of his congregation. His very vocation was destroyed, and he was compelled to step down all prematurely into private life.

   Lionel was banished to the North. The family knew him no more. Dr. Hall tells us that his sister Hilda, who loved to talk of family affairs, never mantioned his name. Some care was taken of him. He was put under the tutgh elage of his sister Adelaide's husband, the Rector of Oughtrington. The curacy was, as it were, invented for him. It did not exist before he came to occupy it, and no successor was needed when he left. Even there, he was not invited to live with Adelaide and her husband, the Rev. Edmund Wethered, though they had a large property. Maybe they didn't really like to have him around the place.

   He held the curacy for five years. But one has the impression that again something happened to reveal Lionel's weakness, dishonour or defect. For, hardly freely but under compulsion one supposes, his next step took him out of the country altogether. Lionel was not a robust man. Energy, initiative and a pioneering mission were hardly for him. Yet in the year 1910 he went to Canada to a life in the wilds, without comfort or amenities, among a rough folk he would not understand, and who would have scant respect for him. Submissive and easily dominated, he must have done what he did because that was what he was told to do. One imagines that his brother‑in‑law, the Rev. Edmund, took him aside and told him what the family had decided on his behalf. Perhaps he told him that the latest manifestation of his weaknesses had been too much, and a family disgrace had to be guarded against. Perhaps also Edmund pressed on him a financial inducement. If he were to go overseas, there would be a regular remittance, payable abroad as long as he remained abroad, but forfeited if he returned to England. While he was in Canada Lionel enjoyed ample private means; it was only when he returned to Borley that he became a poor man.

   The facts show that Lionel's family repudiated him to the point of sending him into exile. Of all his possible failings, one can only think it was a sexual fault that could cause such an extreme reaction and such cruel mea­sures. How then might Lionel have been betrayed into a sexual misdemeanour? One can only suppose that it was his loneliness, his need for love and his af­fection for children that led him astray. Lionel's sex life was never normal. He did not marry till he was fortyfour, and then to a girl half his age. His sexual urge was so feeble that his wife complained he could do nothing for her. They never had children. The marriage may never have been consummated. All too probably Lionel was impotent. Lionel, one imagines, was never at ease with grown women, and would be frightened to the point of panic by a sexual confrontation. But he would feel comfortable with a little girl who would have no such demands or expectations. Relaxed and at his ease, he might per­mit himself little liberties. The child tells her mother. The fat is in the fire. For a clergyman in 1903, a public accusation of, say, indecent assault on a little girl would be total ruin. We know of no such accusation; but then every effort would be made to hush the thing up.

   It was while he was in Oughtrington, twenty‑eight years old, that, as I suppose, Lionel fell in love. It may have been love at first sight. It was on the 19th of June 1906 (or perhaps a little earlier if she had been going to his Sunday school or Bible class), for on that date he baptized a little girl of seven years and a bit who was later to become his wife. She was Marianne Emily Rebecca Shaw. In adolescence and adult life Marianne was a honeypot few men ou1d resist. One of her lovers tells us of her dark and luminous eyes. She would have had those eyes when she was seven. As a woman she was a charmer; as a child she would have had all the attractions of a child. She was no doubt an entrancing morsel of femininity, alert, intelligent, responsive and unselfconscious. Lewis Carroll would have understood Lionel's feelings. She captured the heart of Lionel, it seems from that day. A courtship began and continued through the years until their eventual marriage. He loved her devotedly all his life.

   The Shaw family were a disreputable worthless lot. But Lionel cultivated their acquaintance, and kept in touch with them through all their removals. The connection, which was kept up by letter first to the Shaws and then to Marianne, survived all vicissitudes: her removal to Ireland at the age of eight, her marriage and maternity (of which he never heard), the convulsions of the war years, Marianne's time as a munition worker in England, his own ex­ile in Canada. It does not seem possible that he ever saw her between the ages of eight and nineteen or twenty. William Shaw, her father, was a man of many occupations and satisfactory in none, a clerk, a schoolteacher, a publican, and finally a timekeeper in a firm near Belfast. Her mother was a devious woman who took systematic steps to hide from the world, and from Lionel, Marianne's irregular life and promiscuous disposition. The family were improvident and always poor. Marianne did not get the firm handling her character needed, nor the education her excellent intelligence deserved. She said in 1958 she had had "a hell of a life as a kid", a statement which may have been a cover‑term for almost any form of child abuse. The possib­ility of incestuous relationships cannot be dismissed. She had an elder brother to play with, a father who was a neerdowell and. a mother careless of her welfare. Sexual initiation began early, well before the age of con­sent. It led in due course to a degree of enthusiasm which provoked one of her lovers to miscall her a "sex maniac". We cannot say just how early it all began.

   While Marianne passed out of puberty into adolescence, lost her virginity, became pregnant, married and had a baby, Lionel was moving in celibate loneliness from one forest settlement to the next. His flock were few and scattered. The French Canadians were nearly all Roman Catholics and wanted none of him. In all those years he never married or, as far as we know, formed any friendship or love relationship. The image of the little nymph with whom he corresponded remained bright in his hert and mind. Perhaps the memory was a picture of innocence. Perhaps the bond was strengthened by de­licious recollections of love play. At last came the end of the war. Mari­anne returmed from war work to her home in Northern Ireland. And Lionel got leave for a trip across the ocean to come and visit her.

   When she was fifteen Marianne became friendly with Harold Greenwood, a lad of seventeen working at her father's place of business. In the course of a holiday spent together she became pregnant. The two young people were married in great style in St, Anne's Cathedral, Belfast, befitting the fact that Har­old's father, John Greenwood, was a clergyman. The wedding was on the 12th of November 1914. Marianne was still two months short of her sixteenth birthday, but her age was given as seventeen. On the 19th of April 1915, five months after the marriage, the baby was born and was named Ian Geoffrey William. Only six weeks later Harold, the young husband and father, disap­peared. He was not heard from again, but Ian heard later that he had gone off to the other side of the world. The Shaw family were left to hold the baby. He was brought up as a child of the Shaws, and passed off as Mari­anne's younger brother. One would dearly like to know how much of a mother's duties Marianne undertook. Was she allowed to breastfeed the baby and care for it? If that was not allowed, it might help to explain her obsession to secure herself a baby to cherish in later life, if not by bearing one then by adoption.

   Marianne abandoned her married name and reverted to the surname of Shaw. In time, she and her family tried to wipe the marriage from history, as if it had never been. What is even stranger, the Rev. John Greenwood seems to have done the same, since he never acknowledged the existence of his grandson. This unworthy behaviour is of a piece with that of his son ‑ and that of the Shaws. It suggests that there may have been some serious doubt of the true paternity of Ian, which came to the notice of the Greenwoods all too late. The Shaws certainly practised a deception in respect of Marianne's age; and they may have acted in bad faith in more important respects, if, for instance they picked on Harold Greenwood as the most eligible of a number of possible fathers for Marianne's baby. The marriage was valid in law and was never dissolved. Its legal continuance invalidated one and all of Marianne's subsequent marriages. However, it remained a family secret, and Lionel, for one, never heard of it.

   During the war Marianne was employed in war work in England, and only returned to her family in Lame in 1919. She was then twenty. We are told that her life about then was a succession of love affairs; and in the little Irish town she became notorious. Somewhere about that time Lionel came to visit the Shaws, taking home leave from Canada to do so. Mrs. Shaw, with practised art, found lodgings for him well out of the town, so that he should not come to hear of Marianne's reputation. Ian, her son, was introduced to him as Ian Shaw, her brother. Lionel returned to Canada; and in 1922 he wrote to Marianne and asked her to become his wife. Though now a grown woman, she had not lost her magic. The Shaws must have been very pleased at the prospect of a settled future and such respectability for their daughter. She accepted the offer, and made the passage to Canada at Lionel's charge. They were married in New Brunswick on the 22nd August 1922, Marianne was twenty‑three and Lionel forty‑four. Ian remained with his grandparents until he was ten. He then followed his mother to Canada, where Lionel put him to school and paid for his education. He remained at school in St. John, New Brunswick, until he finished his education. That was in December 1932, when he returned to England to live with the Foysters at Borley.

  Lionel and Marianne began married life in the Rectory at Salmonhurst, one would suppose in fairly comfortable circumstances. Salmonhurst was the centre from which Lionel carried out his work in the forests and lumber camps. He was away from home a good deal, and while he was away Marianne would get up to mischief. That is Ian's story. Ian would have first and second‑hand know­ledge of his mother's affairs. One may feel some wonder that he was so will­ing to talk about them to a stranger. In fact he came forward in 1956 as a volunteer witness, apparently eager to destroy Marine character. Who calls his mother a whore? His motivation is not easy to guess. One can imagine that he denied in his mind that she had been a mother to him.

   Ian tells us that throughout her life in Canada Marianne indulged herself with a series of love affairs. 'We hear of Major Forbes‑Mitchell, Sarto Edinond Foley and Santiago Monk. They seem to have been prosperous men, able to make valuable presents. It is important to recognize that Marianne could engage a man's enduring affection. Santiago Monk, a Chilean diplomat, remained her friend for years. He too, in the course of time removed from Canada to Eng­land, and there renewed the friendship.

   There are few who would say that the Foyster marriage was a very successful one. Marianne thought it was no marriage at all on the sexual side; but she looked after Lionel faithfully until the day of his death. They never had children of their own, though they always had adopted and other children around them. Lionel seems to have been at his best with children, and to have been very happy in their company. They would not take the critical attitude towards him that he would have feared from others. Marianne loved little babies. Why then did she have, at the best, no more than two? That is Ian, who was taken from her, and (probably) John Emery who lived only four and a half months. She had many lovers. Some of them might have been generous fathers to a child of hers they were willing to acknowledge. Perhaps her promiscuity left her with a gynaecological problem which was the cause of subfertility.

   Lionel was incapable of becoming a father. For Marianne he was a lion who could not growl. His severest reproof, when she told him of one of her adulteries, was to tell her she was "a naughty girl"; his proposal for reform was to ask her to pray with him. He certainly did. not take her misconduct as a slight or an injury to him. Indeed, from his point of view their relationship was near to perfection. We need not suppose there was no sexual aspect in their life together. But, to match Lionel's unmanly condition, it would prob­ably be conducted at a childish or less than adult level. From the point of view of a normally constituted woman this would be almost unbearably teasing. It may have been one reason why throughout her life with Lionel she always had at least one man willing and able to make love to her. Lionel never took it amiss. His attitude seems to have been that if he could not give her her dues, he must not begrudge her finding others that could. The needs and the neurotic compensations of the one partner matched those of the other. This reciprocal interlocking ("symbiosis") held them firmly together over the years. However deplor.ble we may think it, their life together was devoid of serious conflict. For Marianne it was manageable, and it gave her a respectable background. For Lionel she remained something like a spoilt but favourite child. What­ever the circumstances, he trusted and believed in her, stood by her and defended her against all criticism.

   Her adventures in Canada caused trouble and, eventually, disaster. Mari­anne became the centre of scandalous gossip. Her love affairs were passed off by Lionel as a misunderstanding of her high spirits and her kindness. More of a problem to the Anglican community was her increasing attachment to the Roman Church. She was quite unrestrained; Lionel made no effort to con­trol her, or tried and miserably failed. After one of her love affairs had ended in grief, she attempted suicide by swallowing Lysol. It was a Roman Catholic priest, one of her friends, who came to her rescue and managed to get her into a RC hospital. The affair was hushed up. It was the only occasion in her life on which she might have been referred. to a psychiatrist. What with one thing and another, Lionel's bishop thought he had better find another post. Lionel and the family moved to St. John, where he was unemployed. They remained there from September 1929 to June 1930.

   This is the first time when we find signs of deviousness in Lionel. In Crockford's Directory, he claimed the Rectorship of Sackville from 1928 to 1930, and from 1930 his move to Borley Rectory. In fact, he had no post from 1929 to 1930. During that year he paid a visit to England, to straighten things out with his relations, and to secure the gift of the living at Borley from his cousins, the Bells.

   The Borley appointment brought a stipend which was miserably small. After deductions, it only amounted to £219 p.a. One of Marianne's complaints about her life with Lionel was that after they came to Borley there was never enough money. The £219 p.a. had to support not only Lionel and Marianne and the run­ning costs of Borley Rectory, but little Adelaide now aged two years and a bit, Marianne's son Ian aged eighteen when he joined the family in January 1933, and domestic assistance. Miss Dytor came as a nurse companion from May to November 1932. When Lionel died in 1945 his estate was valued at £850. That is not very much; but certainly the family were not within inches of destitu­tion. It seems to me likely that Lionel received some continuation of the (hypothetical) allowance made to him by his family while he was in Canada. They may have felt that, as a safely married man now in his fifties, there was no longer such a risk of his disgracing them, and no longer such a need to punish him.

   The five years the Foysters spent at Borley Rectory from October 1930 to October 1935 are, of course, critical for the story of the Borley hauntings. The house had a reputation when they arrived, and Marianne built it up. The "manifestations" cease in January 1932. From the evidence presented in Chap­ter XVI several conclusions can be draws. First, there were no happenings during the years of the Foysters' residence which require a supernormal explan­ation. From her answers in 1958, this was something Marianne knew perfectly well. She dismissed Lionel's Fifteen Months in a Haunted House as "Hallow­eenish and silly". She knew, of course, just how much of the phenomena she had produced herself. And she must have known directly about most of the nonsense that Frank Pearless got up to, and have been able to guess the rest. With such an insight into the internal machinery of the hauntings, she would not be taken in for a minute by Harry Price's conjuring tricks, just as he was not taken in by hers. There were three tricksters at the bottom of all the phenomena; and that completes the list of the dramatis personae to the exclusion of any ghosts. Lionel was an innocent dupe. The degree of credulous foolishness we are laying to his charge is itself hardly credible. But we must remember how infatuated he was, and how determined to believe anything his loved Marianne assured him was true.

   There are undated photographs of the Foysters at Borley which were taken about this time. We see Lionel in his wheel‑chair, giving a finger to a little girl to hold. This must be Adelaide, aged about three and a half or four at most. If, then, this was 1932, Lionel would be fifty‑four. He looks at least ten years older, and could be seventy. He is almost bald. His long narrow face, disappearing on a thin stalk of a neck into a cassock that is too big for him, suggests a man who is already shrunken by illness. His ex­pression is cheerful, soft, gentle and benign.   

   I showed the photographs of Marianne to an artist friend, who was told only the barest outline of her history. She said:

She is a nice size, and looks graceful. It is a face of the people, with a kind of charm. The short retrouss nose and a long upper lip give her a comedy Irish look. It is a mobile face, expressive, with a sense of humour round the mouth and eyes. In another walk of life she might have been an actress. She is bright and quick, but there is a silliness too. No sign of seriousness. Something is lacking; perhaps it is a lack of balance. A puckish face, not quite human. She is not bad or vicious, but empty‑headed. You couldn't trust her. She doesn't know what trustworthiness is.

    During the years 1930 to 1935 Lionel's health was deteriorating steadily."The blood did not go to his brain." His memory, especially for recent events, was getting worse. He would forget where he had put things, so that their disappearances and reappearances might be plausibly attributed to the spirits. He suffered from some form of rheumatic disease; even in 1932 he had swollen hands and a bad limp. Before he left Borley he was reduced to a wheelchair. Eventually he became completely dependent on his wife; and at the last bedridden.