Saturday, April 1, 2017

the last book I ever read (Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, excerpt one)

from Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life by Ruth Franklin:

The rise of Christian Science coincided with a general surge of interest in spiritualism and occult phenomena; Eddy herself was known to conduct séances. The Ouija board, popularized in its modern form by Baltimore inventor William Fuld, could be found in virtually every parlor across the country by the late 1910s. Even President Woodrow Wilson was a devotee: when asked in 1914whether he would be reelected, Wilson replied, “The Ouija board says yes.” Numerous people claimed to take dictation from spirits, including one woman who said she had recorded a new novel by Mark Twain, then dead for seven years. Back in the Bay Area, Contra Costa County was the site of an outbreak of “ouijamania,” in which a teenager allegedly forced her mother and sister to sit by the Ouija board day and night, believing that they were in contact with a relative who had been hit by a car several weeks earlier. Mimi, too, experimented with a Ouija board; Shirley’s brother recalled her and his mother using it with him and Shirley when they were children.

Christian Scientists are famous for their belief that illness can be cured through thought alone. “Sickness is a dream from which the patient needs to be awakened,” Eddy proclaimed. Perhaps Mimi suffered from a chronic illness or handicap that she believed Christian Science could cure. Or she may have been drawn by its message of personal empowerment, its exhortations that belief alone could suffice to improve one’s lot in life. But it could not cure her marriage. In the early 1920s, she and her husband separated, and Mimi moved in with her daughter and son-in-law. Around the same time, Maxwell began designing a new house for his daughter’s family, complete with an extra bedroom for his own wife. He died in 1927, shortly after it was finished. His granddaughter, then ten years old, would barely remember him.

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