Book Review Tuesday: Out of the Shadows by Emily Midorikawa @EmilyMidorikawa @CounterpointLLC #spiritualism #nonfiction #biographies

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Today, I’m sharing another NetGalley read, although this book was released shortly after I reviewed it, and is now available for purchase. Ever since researching the spiritualism movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s for my novel Cusp of Night, I’ve been fascinated by the subject. When I saw Out of the Shadows offered on NetGalley, of course I had to request it!

BLURB:

Queen Victoria’s reign was an era of breathtaking social change, but it did little to create a platform for women to express themselves. But not so within the social sphere of the séance–a mysterious, lamp-lit world on both sides of the Atlantic, in which women who craved a public voice could hold their own.

Out of the Shadows tells the stories of the enterprising women whose supposedly clairvoyant gifts granted them fame, fortune, and most important, influence as they crossed rigid boundaries of gender and class as easily as they passed between the realms of the living and the dead. The Fox sisters inspired some of the era’s best-known political activists and set off a transatlantic séance craze. While in the throes of a trance, Emma Hardinge Britten delivered powerful speeches to crowds of thousands. Victoria Woodhull claimed guidance from the spirit world as she took on the millionaires of Wall Street before becoming America’s first female presidential candidate. And Georgina Weldon narrowly escaped the asylum before becoming a celebrity campaigner against archaic lunacy laws. Drawing on diaries, letters, and rarely seen memoirs and texts, Emily Midorikawa illuminates a radical history of female influence that has been confined to the dark until now.

MY REVIEW:

Thank you to Counterpoint Press and NetGalley for this wonderful ARC. The moment I saw it, I knew I wanted to read it, and I was not disappointed.

I developed a fascination with the workings of spirit mediums of the nineteenth century while conducting research for a series of novels some years back. Since that time, I continue to read anything I can find related to the Spiritualist movement of the Victorian age. I’m fascinated by how these mediums commanded fervent followings and packed lecture halls. Many were gifted theatrical performers able to communicate through spirit rapping, table tilting, channeled writing, and conjuring. Some were escape artists. When Spiritualism was at its peak during the Victorian age, it clashed with medicine and science, fields dominated by men.

The author of Out of the Shadows, doesn’t set out to judge one way of another if the women in her book were fraudulent swindlers preying on a gullible public, true believers of their cause, or a little of both. She examines their lives from family background through the rise of their fame—for each of these ladies certainly obtained it—and, in two cases, to their ultimate downfall. Throughout, we see the mark these women made on society during a time when females were relegated to existing in the shadow of men. Or, as Midorikawa says in the book—in the attitude of the day, men were the “lofty pine,” women viewed as the “clinging vine.”

Anyone familiar with the Spiritualist movement knows it began with the Fox sisters in Hydesville, New York. Two young teenage girl—Maggie and Kate—who began communicating with spirits through rapping sounds. Thus it’s only fitting Midorikawa starts her research there, fleshing out how both girls went from obscurity to fame under the guidance of their older sister, Leah (who would eventually join their act when the sisters packed lecture halls for their performances). We see the growth of the movement as other mediums follow, not only in America but across the Atlantic in Britain, too.

As the author shows us, Spiritualism gave voice to women who were able to combine the supernatural with more pressing concerns of their day. We meet Emma Hardinge Britton who addressed the need for equality between men and women along with her talks on spiritualism. Georgina Weldon championed the Lunacy Laws of Britain, after almost being unjustly incarcerated in an asylum herself (anyone associated with spiritualism could easily be seen as demented). Georgina’s relentless pursuit of those who sought to have her committed would ultimately help bring reform.

Each woman’s life is meticulously detailed, yet shared in a manner that keeps the reader flipping pages. This is a fascinating and in-depth look, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in the development of spirit mediums, or even the morals and attitudes of the Victorian era.


43 thoughts on “Book Review Tuesday: Out of the Shadows by Emily Midorikawa @EmilyMidorikawa @CounterpointLLC #spiritualism #nonfiction #biographies

    • Like you, I find both so fascinating, Flossie. It’s amazing how big this movement became and how many mediums were actually skilled performers. I just love the Victorian age!

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    • Thanks so much. I did a lot of research on it for my Hode’s Hill series of novels, showing how mediums of the day used tricks and showmanship in their acts. This book doesn’t delve into that, but it does look at the lives of the women who helped fan the flames of the movement. I found it fascinating.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Jacqui, it’s so interesting how mediums of the day pulled off the feats they did. This book doesn’t go into that, but it does show how the movement took hold and exploded. I was familiar with several of these women but not all of them. It’s a subject I love researching!

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  1. I never combined women and spiritualism with social reform or a platform for women’s voices. That’s so interesting! And the Victorian era in itself is intriguing. So much change was needed. These women must have used what they could to move mores along.

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    • Judi, like you I never put spiritualism and social reform together–despite all the research I had done for Hode’s Hill–so I found Out of the Shadows quite interesting. It put another whole slant on the subject!

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    • Balroop, all the research I’ve done on this subject related to how mediums of the day employed tricks to get the results they did. I found it fascinating that they were such skilled performers. This book doesn’t go into that, but looks at the lives of several of the women who became renown because of spiritualism. A different angle, but I still enjoyed it. I’m glad you liked my review!

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  2. What a great review, Mae. The Victorian era was such a pivotal changing point for a lot of social structures and these women were leaders for sure. This book sounds like an interesting read that could also be inspiring!

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    • Jacquie, all of my research into spiritualism has been on how mediums pulled off “feats” through showmanship and more. It’s amazing what skilled performers they were. This book didn’t address that, but rather looked at the women themselves. Although it was different from the reading I’d done before, I still found it highly intriguing. It was such an interesting period in history. Glad you enjoyed the review!

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  3. Other than research (and I’m absolutely a research geek), I don’t tend to enjoy non-fiction. However, this sounds like a huge exception to that rule, Mae. I’m spellbound by your review. I really need to read this one. Best wishes to Emily. Hugs all around.

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    • I’m glad it has you intrigued, Teagan. I’ll happily veer into nonfiction with any topic that interests me, research-related or not. In this case, related to mediums of the Victorian age, it was a win-win situation, LOL.

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    • I’m glad you enjoyed the review, Kim. Much of my novel, Cusp of Night relates to spiritualism during the Victorian age. The research led me down a rabbit hole, which I happily return to whenever I find anything related. I could talk for hours on the subject (much like my love of the Mothman, LOL).

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  4. I guess women in that era found their way to assert themselves rather than head on with the men. I can see women were more intuitive and easier to find their way to spiritualism that led to social reform. I’m not familiar with that but I could connect the dots. Thank you for the review, Mae!

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    • It’s true, Miriam. Although there were several noted male spiritualists during the era, the bulk of them were women…perhaps because of that intuitiveness you mentioned. I’m glad you enjoyed the review!

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  5. Sounds like an interesting read for a fascinating topic, Mae. I’m familiar with spiritualism and I read once that Houdini was always going out of his way to disprove the whole craft. He’d used a medium or two, to try and contact his deceased mother and was less than satisfied with the results.

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    • Hi, Mark. Yep, Harry Houdini made it his mission in life to disprove spiritualism. I used a lot of the tricks he exposed in Cusp of Night. Have you ever read The Witch of Lime Street? It’s about Houdini and the most renowned medium of his day (along with a lot of others). It also goes into his friendship with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and how their differing views on spiritualism strained their friendship. If you’re a Houdini fan, I highly recommend that book, too. I loved it!

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