Guest Post

Three Authors + The Spiritualist Movement: Guest Post by Kailey Tedesco

biopic.jpgMeet Kailey Tedesco.

Kailey Tedesco is the author of These Ghosts of Mine, Siamese (Dancing Girl Press) and She Used to be on a Milk Carton (April Gloaming Publishing). She is the editor-in-chief of Rag Queen Periodical and a staff writer at Luna Luna Magazine. She also performs with the Poetry Brothel. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and it has appeared in Phoebe, Sugar House Review, American Chordata, and more.

For other information, please visit kaileytedesco.com or follow @kaileytedesco.

 

Guest Post

Three Authors Who Wrote About The Spiritualist Movement

 

I’ve been fascinated by Spiritualism for as long as I can remember. I ate up every horror film with a medium (The Others, The Legend of Hell House, A Haunting in Connecticut, etc.) and consistently savored new words like “apport” or “clairvoyant.” The Fox Sisters’ (the movement’s founders) oscillating assertions and recantations of their abilities to contact the spirit realm, and the strange circumstances surrounding the existence of a murdered peddler haunting their house in Hydesville, NY still drives me into deep, gauzy reveries of ghosts snuggling towards Earth’s membrane, about to burst forth into my living room. In truth, I cling to these reveries because they comfort me –– as they did many others in the death-torn and frightening Antebellum America.

 

But, aside from quixotic thinking and comfort, Spiritualism also opened the doors for major discourse leading to progressive ideas on gender roles, the suffragette movement, a more holistic/processual view of morality, and the abolishment of slavery.

 

It was only natural that I have gravitated towards authors who explore Spiritualism, either through a lens of endorsement or satire. The following are quotes from authors who, for one reason or another, found themselves writing about the prominence or controversy of Spiritualism:

 

 

  1. Sarah Orne Jewett in “The Foreigner” (1896) –

 

 

The author of The Country of Pointed Firs and a dabbling spiritualist who specifically identified with Swedenborgianism (a pre-cursor to the Spiritualist moment as we now know it). In her short story “The Foreigner” the characters Mrs. Todd and Mrs. Tolland each have a vision (Swedenborg was also known to have visions in both waking life and in dreams) of the latter’s deceased mother:

 

    I couldn’t tell the shape, but ’twas a woman’s dark face lookin’ right at us; ‘twa’n’t but an instant I     could see. I felt dreadful cold, and my head begun to swim; I thought the light went out; ‘twa’n’t         but an instant, as I say, an’ when my sight come back I couldn’t see nothing there.

 

    This is the only mention of ghosts in the entire collection, and it makes sense that it would appear in a story about a women who is ostracized from a close-knit New England fish town — perhaps Jewett’s way of working through her own loneliness in her unique religious convictions.

 

  1. Nathaniel Hawthorne in The House of the Seven Gables (1851)

 

Hawthorne was a staunch disbeliever in Spiritualism, but his wife Sophia Hawthorne, would often host mediums and séances in their home. As an author who frequently explores themes of sin, atonement, hauntings, and pseudo-sciences, it makes perfect sense that spirits would make their way into Hawthorne’s sprawling sentence structures. This passage from The House of the Seven Gables, a novel exploration of America after the witch trials, shows the guilt of the Pyncheon family. Clifford Pyncheon, the brother of the novel’s protagonist, is a descendent of one of the major persecuting judges during the witch trials, just as Hawthorne was a descendent of the very real and malevolent Judge Hathorne. Both the author and the character are haunted, though the latter’s haunting was clearly more literal.

 

    It cannot be, Hepzibah!—it is too late,” said Clifford with deep sadness. “We are ghosts! We have         no right among human beings,—no right anywhere but in this old house, which has a curse on it,         and which, therefore, we are doomed to haunt! And, besides,” he continued, with a fastidious         sensibility, inalienably characteristic of the man, “it would not be fit nor beautiful to go! It is an         ugly thought that I should be frightful to my fellow-beings, and that children would cling to their         mothers’ gowns at sight of me!
  1. Shirley Jackson in The Sundial (1958) –

 

While Jackson was far removed, in both time and belief ,from the movement, she did a thorough exploration of Spiritualism and some of its cultural implications in her novel, The Sundial. In this seemingly post-apocalyptic narrative, a wealthy  family contrives a sort of rapture-plot based on the beliefs of one grief-stricken aunt. They admittedly and collectively buy into this belief because they, essentially,  have nothing better to do. This was perhaps Jackson’s way of satirizing the way some mediums and those who bought into the practice used necromantic or psychic practices as a crutch to avoid reality, impermanence of action, and mortality. It is also probably a judgement upon the con-artistry and theatrics associated with the turn-of-the-century séance and its cultish following.

 

    “It seems to me,” Mrs. Willows said, “that Gloria really sees in the mirror what we want her to…        What I mean is that before, when she saw all horrible things, it was because we were all             frightened and confused. Now that we know pretty well what to expect, it seems to me that they         are showing her more of what we want to see. Maybe I’m not making myself clear.…Gloria,         dear,” she said “ we don’t want you to dwell on destruction and fear. We like your pretty pictures         much much better…She turned to the others. “Trying to find out how much time we have left,”         she explained. “Go along, Gloria.”

 

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