Briefly Noted: ‘ The Patience of Pearl: Spiritualism and Authorship in the Writings of Pearl Curran’

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“The Patience of Pearl: Spiritualism and Authorship in the Writings of Pearl Curran,” by Daniel B. Shea, (University of Missouri Press, November 2012), 296pp, 15 illus.

patienceofpearlPearl Lenore Curran, a St. Louis music teacher, wrote (or possibly channeled) multiple novels and hundreds of poems between 1913 and and 1937 under the name Patience Worth.  Curran was not a spiritualist. She tried out a friend’s Ouija board and, depending on one’s viewpoint, she began communicating with either her subconscious mind or a discarnate entity who lived in England in the 1600s.

The lure of spiritualism brought many people to Curran’s door, some of who listen to the readings, reported the phenomena in books and newspapers, and even spoke with Patience through Mrs. Curran. Some suggested Patience was a real spirit. Others said Curran was being coached, for she had no educational background for speaking and writing about 17th century England using many words and phrases that were not common in the 20th century United States.

Regardless of the source of the material, it was not only voluminous, but attracted rave reviews. To learn more about Curran and Patience Worth, see the September 2010 “Smithsonian Magazine” article “Patience Worth: Author From the Great Beyond.”

Like books such as Irving Litvag’s Singer in the Shadows: The Strange Story of Patience Worth and Casper Yost’s Patience Worth: A Psychic Mystery, the “Smithsonian” article focuses chiefly on historical facts and the opinions of spiritualists. Professor Shea’s The Patience of Pearl focuses on the works themselves within the scope of Curran’s life and Patience Worth’s literary voice.

In his introduction, Shea writes that “it does seem odd that a woman who wrote with brief but notorious success less than one hundred years ago could still be, as Lucky Jim once put it, so strangely neglected.” He suggests that the way they were written discredited them from the beginning as part of spiritualism’s table tapping and purported revelations from entities from another time or place.

From the Publisher: “The Patience of Pearl uncovers more of Curran’s (and thus Patience Worth’s) biography than has been known before; Daniel B. Shea provides close readings of the Patience-dictated writings and explores the historical and local context, applying current cognitive and neuro-psychology research…Novelistic in its own way, Curran’s life included three husbands and a child adopted on command from Patience Worth. Pearl Curran enjoyed a brief period of celebrity in Los Angeles before her death in 1937. The Patience of Pearl once again brings her the attention she deserves—for her life, her writing, and her place in women’s literary history.”


In one of her poems, Patience/Pearl wrote:

Lo, are my songs like birds
Within a wicker hung, and thou,
Beloved, hast loosed the latch
And let them free!

Shea’s thorough overview is an open door.

–Malcolm

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2 responses

  1. Interesting! I’ll look for the article; I find the spiritualists–and people like them–fascinating.