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Out of the Shadows : Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice

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Extraordinary tales of women and the supernatural during the Victorian era that illuminate a radical history of female influence on social issues that has been—until now—confined to the dark. Queen Victoria’s reign was one of breathtaking social change, yet roles for most women remained rigid and narrow. The “angel in the house” rarely expressed an opinion, and certainly no Extraordinary tales of women and the supernatural during the Victorian era that illuminate a radical history of female influence on social issues that has been—until now—confined to the dark. Queen Victoria’s reign was one of breathtaking social change, yet roles for most women remained rigid and narrow. The “angel in the house” rarely expressed an opinion, and certainly not one that challenged the status quo. But not so within the social sphere of the seance–a mysterious, lamplit world dominated by enterprising women whose apparent ability to move between the realms of the dead and the living rewarded them with otherwise unthinkable fame and power. Such talents allowed them to cross rigid boundaries of gender and class, and to summon unique political voices–voices capable of reaching some of the era’s most famous personalities, including even Victoria herself. Out of the Shadows, which draws on original diaries, letters, and memoirs, tells the stories of six such visionary Victorians. The clairvoyance of Kate, Leah, and Maggie Fox, three sisters from upstate New York, inspired some of the era’s best-known female suffrage activists and set off an international séance craze. British performer Emma Hardinge Britten left behind a career on Broadway for the life of a “trance lecturer,” whose oration on the death of Abraham Lincoln was celebrated by tens of thousands. The meteoric rise of Victoria Woodhull, born into poverty in Ohio, took her from childhood medium to Wall Street broker to America’s first female presidential candidate. And Georgina Weldon, whose interest in spiritualism nearly saw her confined to an asylum, went on to become a favorite of the press and a successful campaigner against Britain’s archaic lunacy laws.


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Extraordinary tales of women and the supernatural during the Victorian era that illuminate a radical history of female influence on social issues that has been—until now—confined to the dark. Queen Victoria’s reign was one of breathtaking social change, yet roles for most women remained rigid and narrow. The “angel in the house” rarely expressed an opinion, and certainly no Extraordinary tales of women and the supernatural during the Victorian era that illuminate a radical history of female influence on social issues that has been—until now—confined to the dark. Queen Victoria’s reign was one of breathtaking social change, yet roles for most women remained rigid and narrow. The “angel in the house” rarely expressed an opinion, and certainly not one that challenged the status quo. But not so within the social sphere of the seance–a mysterious, lamplit world dominated by enterprising women whose apparent ability to move between the realms of the dead and the living rewarded them with otherwise unthinkable fame and power. Such talents allowed them to cross rigid boundaries of gender and class, and to summon unique political voices–voices capable of reaching some of the era’s most famous personalities, including even Victoria herself. Out of the Shadows, which draws on original diaries, letters, and memoirs, tells the stories of six such visionary Victorians. The clairvoyance of Kate, Leah, and Maggie Fox, three sisters from upstate New York, inspired some of the era’s best-known female suffrage activists and set off an international séance craze. British performer Emma Hardinge Britten left behind a career on Broadway for the life of a “trance lecturer,” whose oration on the death of Abraham Lincoln was celebrated by tens of thousands. The meteoric rise of Victoria Woodhull, born into poverty in Ohio, took her from childhood medium to Wall Street broker to America’s first female presidential candidate. And Georgina Weldon, whose interest in spiritualism nearly saw her confined to an asylum, went on to become a favorite of the press and a successful campaigner against Britain’s archaic lunacy laws.

36 review for Out of the Shadows : Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice

  1. 4 out of 5

    The Starry Library

    'Out of the Shadows' is a series of short biographies of Victorian women who used the Spiritualist movement to spearhead another dimension to the suffragist campaign. Detailed accounts of these women's lives on the cusp of two worlds- the mundane and supernatural provided the backdrop and context to which these ladies were able to advocate for women's rights. It was incredibly compelling to learn about the suffragist movement from a psychical perspective. By communicating with spirits they were 'Out of the Shadows' is a series of short biographies of Victorian women who used the Spiritualist movement to spearhead another dimension to the suffragist campaign. Detailed accounts of these women's lives on the cusp of two worlds- the mundane and supernatural provided the backdrop and context to which these ladies were able to advocate for women's rights. It was incredibly compelling to learn about the suffragist movement from a psychical perspective. By communicating with spirits they were able to give themselves a voice and a platform that gained momentum for both the spiritualism and women's liberation movements. Even though some of these women did have men as their backers, it did seem as though the women knew exactly what they were doing by advocating for their rights via a supernatural ability that ironically involved the invisible...a realm that Victorian women were all too familiar with. I believe there was some ambiguity in each biography as to whether their spirit contact abilities were real? The uncertainty about this does make me question whether these ladies were psychic or fraudsters? Does their work to enfranchise women lose its credibility if it was promoted using fraudulent paranormal abilities? Overall an illuminating look at a piece of history that has been kept in the shadows that will surely shed some light on the power of women's voices...otherworldly or not.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Mae Clair

    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 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.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brenda

    Six astonishing women in Europe and North America with varying spiritualism gifts and skill sets took the Victorian era by storm in their own ways. Sceptics and believers alike were drawn to the ambitious women, often paying unheard of amounts of money to see the women "perform" on stage or in hotel/private rooms. Crowds measured in the hundreds to watch the table rapping, spiritual healing and calling on departed spirits and at times crowds became unruly and aggressive as spiritualism really di Six astonishing women in Europe and North America with varying spiritualism gifts and skill sets took the Victorian era by storm in their own ways. Sceptics and believers alike were drawn to the ambitious women, often paying unheard of amounts of money to see the women "perform" on stage or in hotel/private rooms. Crowds measured in the hundreds to watch the table rapping, spiritual healing and calling on departed spirits and at times crowds became unruly and aggressive as spiritualism really divided. These women, so very different in personality, were all drawn to making money (usually out of necessity) and notoriety. Some used their fame to influence in other ways such as speaking and changing laws. Despite criticism and accusations of trickery and quackery the women forged ahead. However, several grieving people found solace through these women. Some ladies were more successful in life than others. A few died broken. While all were fascinating to read about, the one which stood out most in my mind is Georgina Weldon who went to great lengths to avoid being forced into an asylum for her spiritualism. Due to this she became an advocate against lunacy laws. Emma Hardinge became a powerful speaker, even delivering a funeral oration on Abraham Lincoln! I like that the author gave thorough biographies of all these women which gives super context and perspective. The amount of research for this book must have been staggering! You need not be into spiritualism to get something from this book. I read it simply to learn more about history and these unique women. My sincere thank you to Counterpoint Press for allowing me the privilege of reading this enthralling book!

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jillian Doherty

    If you are already love the Lore podcast, or enjoy the books that have come forth from it – then you will adore this book as well! This instantly immersive narrative starts off with the infamous Fox sisters; legends of their time, and just like the other women highlighted in this account, all buried it by history. Focusing on the spiritual movement of the late 1800s, this deeply researched history illustrates how incredible women changed the path for women going forward~ without owning that legacy If you are already love the Lore podcast, or enjoy the books that have come forth from it – then you will adore this book as well! This instantly immersive narrative starts off with the infamous Fox sisters; legends of their time, and just like the other women highlighted in this account, all buried it by history. Focusing on the spiritual movement of the late 1800s, this deeply researched history illustrates how incredible women changed the path for women going forward~ without owning that legacy. Today, we have a brilliant hindsight how our history books lack so many accounts that indeed change our present lives- this is a very fun, and consumable look at some of those hidden figures. Galley borrowed from the publisher.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Natalie

    I requested an ARC of this book because my senior thesis was on British Victorian Women Writers’ Supernatural Short Stories, and in my research, spiritualism, of course, came up frequently, and many studies in the stories were through a feminist lens as well. So I was very interested to learn about women’s roles in spiritualism through this book! Focusing on 6 prominent female spiritualists, most practicing mediums, this book shows how these women used spiritualism to exert independence and be s I requested an ARC of this book because my senior thesis was on British Victorian Women Writers’ Supernatural Short Stories, and in my research, spiritualism, of course, came up frequently, and many studies in the stories were through a feminist lens as well. So I was very interested to learn about women’s roles in spiritualism through this book! Focusing on 6 prominent female spiritualists, most practicing mediums, this book shows how these women used spiritualism to exert independence and be seen and heard in a way most Victorian women weren’t allowed. Their independence wasn’t limited to spiritualism; many became great orators, businesswomen, and politicians, although their success in these fields was largely due to their involvement in and approach to spiritualism. It was quite fascinating! I never grew bored, which can sometimes be the case with historical nonfiction, and it didn’t seem too long/short. The last chapter discussed the downfall of spiritualism in the late 1800s and people trying to disprove mediums, spiritualists, etc, but I would have liked more commentary on if/how these events were faked. However, I can see why Midorikawa might have left more information out as she obviously wanted to focus on the women.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kris - My Novelesque Life

  9. 5 out of 5

    Counterpoint Press

  10. 4 out of 5

    Aileen Sitero

  11. 5 out of 5

    Nocturnalux

  12. 5 out of 5

    Fiza Pathan

  13. 4 out of 5

    Molly

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sofya

  15. 5 out of 5

    Cate

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kit

  17. 4 out of 5

    An

  18. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  19. 4 out of 5

    Denise

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey

  21. 4 out of 5

    Corinne B

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jessika

  23. 5 out of 5

    kate

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mya Tran

  25. 5 out of 5

    Katie

  26. 4 out of 5

    Holly

  27. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth ✨

  28. 4 out of 5

    Israa Ahmed

  29. 4 out of 5

    Helen Geng

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

  31. 4 out of 5

    tatterpunk

  32. 4 out of 5

    Addie Patterson

  33. 5 out of 5

    Jen (Pop! Goes The Reader)

  34. 4 out of 5

    Kait

  35. 4 out of 5

    C.j

  36. 4 out of 5

    Victoria Patterson

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