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The Reluctant Spiritualist: The Life of Maggie Foxby Nancy Rubin Stuart
Synopses & Reviews
* Nominated for a New York Historical Society Book Prize in American History
* Honorable Mention in General Nonfiction from the American Society of Journalists and Authors
Here is the first authoritative biography of Margaret Fox, the world-famous medium and cofounder of the Spiritualism movement that swept America in the mid-1800s. In 1848, fifteen-year-old Maggie and her sister Katy created rapping sounds by manipulating their toe joints, practicing until they convinced their parents that their farmhouse was haunted. What started as a prank soon transformed into a movement: By 1853 more than thirty thousand mediums were at work, with Maggie among the most famous. But when she denounced the faith in 1888-appearing before a packed auditorium in her stocking feet to demonstrate-Spiritualism withered almost as quickly as it had bloomed.
Through the memoirs of the Fox sisters, the letters of Maggie's Arctic explorer husband, contemporary newspaper accounts, and other primary sources, Nancy Rubin Stuart creates a vibrant portrait of a Victorian-era woman at the heart of the tumults of her time.
"Stuart gives us the first modern biography of Maggie Fox, cofounder of spiritualism. After the two young Fox sisters, Maggie and Katy, claimed they had contacted spirits of the dead in 1848, a large religious movement coalesced around them. But that movement faded when, in 1888, Maggie Fox revealed that the ghostly communication had been a hoax. In this fast-paced biography, we follow Fox through the rise and fall of spiritualism, tracing her travels and lectures, her romance with Arctic explorer Elisha Kane and sister Katy's desperate slide into alcoholism. Stuart argues that, despite its fraudulence, spiritualism left a powerful legacy, influencing Duke University's 1920s studies of ESP, Elisabeth Kbler-Ross's work on death and dying and today's interest in all things New Age. Though highly readable and entertaining, this biography leaves several large questions unanswered. Primary sources recording Maggie's own voice are few; readers may wish for more intimacy and a clearer sense of how Fox felt about the remarkable wool she was pulling over America's eyes. Stuart also neglects larger questions of social history: other than a brief excursus on mesmerism, she makes little attempt to explain why spiritualism was so very popular. Because Stuart neither takes us closely into Fox's heart and mind nor paints an especially rich picture of the mid — 19th-century American spiritual landscape, this book engages but ultimately fails to satisfy." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Book News Annotation:
While working on a biography of another 19th-century American woman, Stuart learned more and more about the spiritualist movement and its abuses, and became increasingly intrigued by Fox (1833-93), one of the movement founders, because of her apparent ambivalence about mediumship. By examining her letters, memoirs, newspaper interviews, and accounts by contemporaries, she came to understand that the emotional fragility and sensitivity that aided the medium's clairvoyance and telepathy were also intimately tied to her downfall.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
About the Author
Nancy Rubin Stuart is the author of several books, including American Empress: The Life and Times of Marjorie Merriweather Post and Isabella of Castile: The First Renaissance Queen. Her articles have appeared in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She lives in New York City.
Table of Contents
1. Humble Beginnings
2. The Spirit of a Dream
3. "A Mere Fraud Could Not Live So Long"
4. "So Continuously in the Public Eye"
5. "Justice is sure, though sometimes very slow"
6. "Remember then, as a sort of dream"
7. "But for the Polar Ices"
8. Hope Deferred
9. "A Sort of Sanctuary"
10. "That You May Know the Sacred Love"
11. "A Cloud of Reproach"
12. The Highest Right
13. Great Magnetism and Remorse
14. "A Clean Breast of All Her Miracles and Wonders"
15. "An Unmistakable Individual Intelligence"
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