The Haunting of Alma Fielding: A True Ghost Story by Kate Summerscale
Heard about this book from What’s Nonfiction’s fabulous blog.
I’ve read quite a few books about magicians and, tangentially, spiritualism due to the vocation of many magicians to debunk (or, alternatively, learn from) mediums. As a skeptic myself, I find mediumship curious. So much of it is a con, but there is also often an aspect of self-delusion. Even magicians who have done mind-reading or séance type acts—professionals who know they are not communing with spirits or guides—have reported the feeling of working beyond what they’re capable of. But they also realize that this is a feeling and not reality.
The Haunting of Alma Fielding begins in 1938 when a normal British housewife begins to be harassed by poltergeist activity. Nandor Fodor, a “ghost hunter” for the International Institute for Psychical Research, investigates. Fodor believes in psychic phenomena, but he wants badly to have scientific proof of it. When we begin this story, he’s in some hot water with the IIPR because he has, disappointingly, proved several mediums to be frauds. He is desperate to find a true case of a haunting, but has also begun to theorized that these poltergeists might be manifestations (still psychic in nature) of trauma. As Alma begins to get attention, from the press and the IIPR, the poltergeist activity shifts to being apports (manifested objects) and mediumship, things that Fodor wants to see of her. There is an interplay between the expectations of Alma and Fodor. Their relationship becomes maybe too co-dependent. And Fodor eventually finds out that Alma isn’t as simple as she seems. This is all against the backdrop of a Britain under increasing pressure as WWII become immanent. Summerscale mentions that there was an increase in news-worthy cases of poltergeist activity during this era, which is a interesting detail.
At times, the book was maybe a little repetitive and there were a few too many a names. I had a tough time remembering who everyone was after putting the book down for a day or two. For me, this is a good addition to my framework of magic and spiritualism. It brought me further into the 20th century than my usual reading.
Mosses from an Old Manse by Nathaniel Hawthorne
This was my May Classics Club Spin book, which I did finish in May. Barely.
I forget sometimes that Hawthorne, Melville, and Poe were contemporaries. What wonderful dinner parties those would be… Anyway. Like Poe, I’m not a fan of Hawthorne’s straight-up allegories. We’ve talked about this before when I touched on “Egotism; or, The Bosom-Serpent” during Deal Me In. To me, the only way a writer should present allegory is if they can do it with a level of actual story. So, a few of the stories in Mosses (“The Celestial Rail-road ” & “The Procession of Life”) were rather torturous for me to get through. But so many others are such wonderful, if cynical, stories. I’m still a Hawthorne neophyte, so I’m still surprised by the very dim view Hawthorne takes of humankind. I’m not used to that from authors. Ironically, while I am not a fan of allegory, I am a fan of speculative fiction genres and the two go hand in hand, especially in the pre-pulp days. “Young Goodman Brown” and “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” and even “Feathertop” and “Egotism; or, The Bosom-Serpent” have gooey horror fiction cores.
Deal Me In
4♠️ – “The Cold Embrace” by Mary E. Braddon
Speaking of early horror fiction… Ever read a story where you say, “Oh, you naive boy. You don’t know what kind of story you’re in”? Yeah, I did that here and enjoyed every second of our main character’s comeuppance.
Started on my summer reading and then was quickly sidetracked my an impulse read, All the Flavors by Ken Liu, while I was cataloging the books on my Kindle. Next up is The Hypno-Ripper: Or, Jack the Hypnotically Controlled Ripper; Containing Two Victorian Era Tales Dealing with Jack the Ripper and Hypnotism, edited by Donald K Hartman and then back to Journey to the Center of the Earth.