Friday 19 August 2016

How to Read Character

Leach’s Character Reading, part of the Leach’s Sixpenny Series

Most of Leach’s leaflets contained crochet patterns for blouses, dressing table sets, lingerie edgings etc. This one (bought on ebay) is from the drab, penurious years just after World War I, before the Jazz Age got started. It promises Palmistry, Graphology, What the Face Tells. (One day I’ll be lucky enough to find the fortune-telling issue.)

In the detective novels of Josephine Tey, policemen classify suspects by the blueness of their eyes. Lesser writers talk of determined chins, square jaws, weak mouths, noble brows, coarse features. Did they get all this watered-down Cesare Lombroso out of pamphlets like these? The character descriptions could easily furnish the cast of a mystery – and I’m sure there was a brisk trade in pamphlets offering plots for short stories and novels.

The writer’s preconceptions are clear. There are dated, now unacceptable, references to “primitive” types, who with their low, sloping foreheads have less room for a brain. “With this kind of person you must not attempt to reason, for they will have fixed ideas and like old things; rebelling against new ones and hating progress."

But apart from this, the author shows us which “character types” we should admire and what kind of behaviour we should avoid, and her attitudes are more liberal, enlightened and kind than many that were sloshing around when I was a small child. In fact she uses her light-hearted guide to character reading to denigrate cruelty to children and backward ideas generally.

The “intellectual type” is go-ahead, but a narrow skull means a narrow mind. The owners of pointy chins are likely to be “weak-willed, vain, shallow and silly”. A bulging cerebellum (back of the head) indicates a “mastermind”. Watch out for the “fussy and energetic... always buzzing around and inclined to interfere with others” – you can tell them by their long thin faces and high foreheads. Arched brows mean someone is “easily led”, but Mephistophelean eyebrows warn of sarcasm.

Here’s Inspector Grant’s blue-eyed theory: “light blue eyes do not show much feeling”, the dark blue eyed are fickle, the brown-eyed affectionate. Beware also the sleepy eyed, like Mycroft Holmes, and narrow eyes that look at you sideways.

A long, thin nose is the sign of a self-righteous hypocrite. “A mother with this nose will make her children eat things they dislike ‘because it is good for them’... She likes checking all joy and spirit, as it is not ‘nice’, not ‘proper’.”

Your hands may reveal that you are the type of woman who will “wear her best clothes when cooking or dusting”. She has another go at “stoppers of progress” (they have short, stubby fingers). Tapering digits show a love of art, but the owner may “paint pot-boilers which sell”. (Thanks for the tip!)

“A sensitive child, too timid to tell its own feelings” will show its nature by its slender hands. “That child should be most tenderly treated and kindly used, never frightened or spoken harshly to, threatened or punished.” (I wish more people had read this advice.)

Fingernails may reveal “a liking for comfort and material luxuries and having one’s own way”. Sounds more attractive than life as a self-sacrificing doormat, doesn’t it? She also recommends sticking to your own ideas despite well-meant interference, probably due to “carping and critical dislike of anything out of the ordinary”.

She fudges the question of free will and predestination with misty concepts like fate and will: Your left hand shows “what fate and nature intended for you”, while your right hand shows “what you have obtained yourself, by will or force of purpose”.

Her gallop through astrology concerns only birth planets. Moony people are dreamy, also “highly strung and nervy”. Those born under Neptune are prone to idealism, “which is very unbeneficial if carried to extremes”.

Those born under Venus love warmth, good food and nice clothes. “If in their childhood their parents try to ‘harden’ them, and let them out without plenty of warm things”, they may have serious illnesses later in life. “Never try to harden a child.”

Delicate children may also be found under Saturn: “You will sometimes see a child, reserved, timid and quiet, dragged out to play and become ‘sociable’... These children should never be brought out roughly.”

There’s even a section on body language (“mannerisms”). Don’t keep your arms pressed to your sides or clutch your umbrella to your bosom, but on the other hand don’t slouch and sprawl, or fidget. Keep a firm handshake, and put your head on one side to be ingratiating. (We’d call it “presentation” today.)

As with popular astrology, the character descriptions are much more down-to-earth and useful than those you’d find in scientific psychology, then or now.


  1. In Tey's Franchise Affair isn't there a character who can tell a girl is 'over-sexed' (not a word we hear much now) by her eyes? They remind this charmer of a 'bint in Port Said', something like that.

  2. Yes, he's the bloke from the garage!