Monthly Archives: August 2013

ROSA ALVARO and PEARL

Rosa-Alvaro-EntrantePearl Curran has gone on record that she never was interested in writing and up until the arrival of Patience Worth had never made any attempts to write anything other than letters to friends and relatives.   After 6 years under the tutelage of  “Patience Worth”, Pearl Curran decided to try to write short stories by herself without the help of Patience Worth.  Apparently she did write three short stories ‘Rosa Alvaro, Entrante’, ‘Old Scotch’ and ‘The Fourth Dimension’ which she submitted to the Saturday Evening Post under her own name.  Only one of them, Rosa Alvaro, Entrante is still extant.  It was  published in the November 22, 1919 edition of The Saturday Evening Post.  All three of them seem to be about young women who are involved with “spiritualistic fakery” of some kind, something that Pearl Curran had been accused of since she began transcribing writing from Patience Worth, a purported spirit of a 17th century English spinster.  I think it is interesting that in 1926 when Dr. Walter Franklin Prince was investigating the case of Patience Worth he apparently did not have a copy of Rosa Alvaro, Entrante , published in 1919 as he never mentioned it in his study while he did mention ‘Old Scotch ‘ and “The Fourth Dimension’ which he said he had before him.

There are critics of the writing of Pearl Curran who usually cite Pearl’s use of dialogue of early 20th century young women to make fun of her or to demonstrate her lack of serious writing ability.  But those who use those examples either missed Pearl’s ability to write narration or purposely selected samples to make their point that Pearl Curran was unintelligent. (My mother was born in 1910 and was a young girl in the teens and twenties of the twentieth century.  I can vouch for  some of that atrocious dialogue used in these stories as I have heard some of the words from my mother or heard it in movies of the 1930s and 40s.)  I think that Pearl did a very good job of capturing the flavor of the language of the ‘modiste” during that time period and actually showed her intelligence as a writer rather than her ignorance.  At least that’s the way I imagine it!

The following is an example of the writing of Pearl Curran, predominately narrative, in Chapter VI  of the short story Rosa Alvaro, Entrante.  I think this is more representative of the intelligence and ability  of Pearl Curran to write an entertaining story.

 CHAPTER VI

Miss Agatha Rhader might have furnished in her own person profitable study for a scientist as a complex of personalities.  To be sure, her outlook upon life was in her own opinion sane—practical, as she liked to put it; but the practical side of it applied to the world in general, not to Agatha herself.  She met the day as a sort of game, never for an instant betraying her next move.  In her set, men and women played desperately and Agatha knew how to meet them.  She had been watching Doctor Drew with calculating interest.  Drew was a man of success and position.  Agatha had success but needed position.  The Rhaders had moved into prominence with ease.  The world saw Agatha roll about in her limousine and never for one desecrating instant remarked that the power that swept it magnificently by was Rhader’s Ratifier, an elixir that had to do with a large field of common complaints.

Agatha had arrived in elegance.  Properly turned out at the hands of a finishing establishment she had been accepted as a proper product by society, which petted her accommodatingly in her youth and found a centrain satisfaction in the affectionately termed “clever Agatha” now; for, after all, society recognized its own offspring in her.  Agatha’s complexities were her charm.  She might indulge in pet monkeys or any other ultra hobby.  With society it would mean nothing; just Agatha.  She had gone in for new thought and had worn it to tatters.  She had danced and flirted, had held nothing sacred;  accepting a new creed as lightly as she might learn the newest step.  The world was a show, and Agatha was easily bored.  What represented her actual attainment mentally was not disclosed by her arguments, which were largely made up of stock in trade culled from a rather cursory perusal of the subject in hand.  She could talk theosophy from auras to planes; could spout on suffrage and other politics, golf, polo, neurasthenia.  She had gone in for Red Cross during the war, flitting from one branch to another, garbed in various becoming costumes, until now when it was all over she had announced that she was on the verge of a collapse, and had found solace and rest in a personal study of Doctor Drew, whom she had appropriated.

“Really,”  she had said,  “one cannot attain a perfect poise without a thorough basis of its psychology.”

Thus that dignified science was admitted to the depths of Agatha’s being, as a means to an end.

Doctor Drew had proceeded with his experiments cautiously, finding in Rosa a clever and uncertain subject.  Agatha had come regularly to discuss the case, and upon this afternoon had arrived attired carefully and becomingly, perfectly coiffured, and inclined to be absorbed in herself and somewhat cynical.  She sat blowing thin ribbons of scented smoke from her lips and listening to Doctor Drew’s account of a recent interview with Rosa.

“I have found Miss Ladd very secretive, for my experiments with Rosa have betrayed a number of facts that she has concealed.  Under hypnosis Rosa is obstinate but childishly trustful, not hesitating to betray Miss Ladd in her evident desire to be on good terms with me; a sort of appeal, as it were, for her own existence.  I have found through Rosa that Miss Ladd has a ‘leetle’ book, which she reads. ‘Eet ees Spaneesh,señor.  She learn my lengua.’

“Rosa in this statement betrayed Miss Ladd, who declares she knows no Spanish; at the same time Rosa did not realize that she had betrayed a part of her own being.”  Doctor Drew was tracing a diagram upon a piece of writing paper, a circular outline, a wheel within a wheel.  “This,” he continued, pointing to the smaller circle in the middle, “is Miss Ladd’s consciousness.  You will notice, Gaddy, that I have shaded the outer rim, which is to indicate the extent of the overlapping of Miss Ladd’s consciousness with that of Rosa’s.  I have arrived definitely at the point of division.  I can lead Miss Ladd up to a certain point and Rosa slips in.  It is only by the use of hypnosis that I can keep the two separated.  The personality of Rosa imposes itself as a protective subterfuge for Miss Ladd, and the personality of Miss Ladd acts in the same capacity for Rosa.  You must realize, Gaddy, that it is very difficult to make this clear in terms not technical.”

“I see, Mac.  You take the attitude of humoring the infant.  You amuse me; the whole thing is so transparent.  Go on.  I’m terribly amused, if that comforts you.  But, my dear, everyone is talking.  This sales person has become the pet and center of social interest.  I’ll wager you that Goldman’s never had such a run on hosiery.  She is most unattractive, but a type after a fashion and to possess a secondary personality lends no end of interest, even to a sales person.

Agatha’s eyes view Doctor Drew narrowly as she leaned her perfectly coiffured head against a tapestry the colors of which brought into prominence certain Titian shades in Agatha’s hair.

Doctor Drew returned the gaze with cool disdain, remarking:  “I cannot understand, Gaddy, how you can allow yourself to sink to the common level of gossip.  Miss Ladd is far from being unattractive, and Rosa is quite charming, a most lovably trustful soul. The case is pathetic.  Why will women so willingly accuse other women?”

“Because, Mac, they are women; and being women they know their dear sisters.  All this of your giving Miss Ladd, through hypnotism, the suggestion for a dream, and Rosa—confiding little Rosa—returning next morning with the dream as per your command—really, Mackie, it’s too much!  I tell you the girl is playing you.  I am amused, amazingly amused at you, Mackie.  You have a scientific pet and you forget plain facts to carry out your own theories.”

“Agatha!”  Doctor Drew stood before the impudently poised young woman sternly, his face set.  “Your studies are at an end.  I cannot countenance such a discussion regarding so serious a subject.  I shall continue my experiments, gathering data for a full report of the case, and at the same time I shall have relieved a suffering human being.  Let me repeat—the case is serious, even tragic.  We shall not discuss the matter further.”

Agatha yawned and flicked the ash from her cigarette, laughing.  “As you will, Mackie, dear.  The mixture is too thick to stir with a spoon, I see that; but I warn you, you poor benighted weakling!”  Then with a shrug which dismissed the subject she unwound her long length and assumed the air of an ingénue.  “I hate discussions, Mackie.  Come, be nice to me.  If I’m going to marry you, you mustn’t irritate me.  Come; I’ll run along.  There’s a dear.  I’ll drop you at the club; and I promise, Mackie, to be more considerate of your beloved science.”

Doctor Drew smilled, though his expression still retained some of the annoyance it had displayed before the arrogant Agatha had discarded her tactless attitude for an appealing poise, dropping her air of sophistication for one of innocence.

The ride from the apartment to the club was completed in silence, Doctor Drew coddling his offended dignity and Miss Rhader absorbed in her own thoughts.

The destination reached she broke the silence with “Don’t be foolish, Mackie.  You have often said you liked a woman who asserted her rights.  Come out to-night and iI’ll be nice to you.”

Doctor Drew alighted from the sumptuous car and standing beside the open door laughed tolerantly, placing his hat upon his head as he said:  “You are an enigma, Agatha.  To-night, then.  “Agatha sank back in the cushions confidently, and her lips curled in a satisfied smile as she watched Doctor Drew enter the club and the swinging doors shut him from view.  As the car moved forward she murmured, “Poor Mackie, the infant!”

To what extent others helped Pearl with these stories is not documented although she was surrounded by people who had considerable experience writing and to whom she could turn for advice and correction,  including her husband John Curran, her friend Emily Hutchings, newspaper editor Casper Yost and ‘Patience Worth’ .  The Patience Worth Record  notes that,  “… Mrs. Curran had just competed her first major short story.  It is made quite clear that Mrs. Curran, not Patience, was the author, yet the record added:  “There was no doubt that Patience had helped.  The story reeks of her, yet it was all Mrs. Curran’s personal material.”  According to Irving Litvag in Singer in the Shadows he quotes that Patience was asked to comment on the story and replied, “The tastin’ be the tellin’.  ‘Tis but a babe’s mixin’, but nay sae sorry a loaf!”  Later, referring to a second story on which Mrs. Curran had begun work, Patience said, “I say ’tis well that the wench be she.  There be within mine words a thing she may not deny and within hers a thing I may not deny.  There be two streams runnin’ forth from one fountainhead, I say, the throat with two songs.  And earth shall be confused before the task of knowing’ what be upon them, and in the confusion they shall be drawn within the net, for they shall look upon the flesh of me for the flesh of her and see it not.  Yet shall she take in the ears of them that list unto her for the words of me.”

Dr. Walter Franklin Prince thought that a reasonable theory would be that Patience Worth helped Mrs. Curran to write her Saturday Evening Post articles. He says that Patience Worth bantered and teased Mrs. Curran deliciously about her stories.  “The wench be uppin’ and o’erin o’ me, and be a deemin’ the loaf be goodish.  ‘Tis a brazen tale.”  Prince continues that Patience did hint that she helped a “wee bit.”  He is  “convinced that in the main the stories were the work of Mrs. Curran’s conscious mind, and Patience Worth plainly implies the same, and that she has a rather poor opinion of the stuff.”  Prince quotes Patience again as saying, “I might sing a song that would last unto tomorrow’s dawn, but—I’ll nae at the task.”  and interprets that as meaning, ” Evidently she thinks the stories will not reap eternal fame.  Patience further advises, :  “Eat the loaf, and doth it not set thy belly sore, ’tis good.’

FAKE FLOWERS AND OLD SHAWL

I have had a chance to re-read Rosa Alvaro Entrante by Pearl Lenore Curran as published in the November 22, 1919 edition of The Saturday Evening Post.  Much has been conjectured about this story as a disclosure by Pearl Curran of her relationship with Patience Worth, a purported spirit of the 17th century woman with whom Pearl wrote several novels, short stories, many poems, and aphorisms.  The bottom line, as declared by some learned people, is that this story is proof that Pearl Curran faked the personality of Patience Worth just as Mayme Ladd, one of the main characters in the story, faked the personality of Rosa Alvaro a spirit of a long-dead lady.

Rosa-Burgess2The story of Rosa Alvaro Entrante is simple enough.  Two young women, working at Goldman and Company Department Store in Chicago in the hosiery department are bored with their single life and circumstances and are looking for Mr. Right to come along and take them away to a better life. Gwen Applebaum, dressed in a  “henna  Georgette”,  is well on her way with a developing relationship with James ‘Jim” Dolan but Mayme Ladd hasn’t found the man of her dreams yet.  She is becoming more and more depressed, and depleted of energy in her oppressive hot hotel room and as revealed at the end of the story had actually contemplated suicide in Lake Michigan.  Fortunately , Mr. Peacock, Mayme’s department supervisor/floorwalker had left a small card on the display counter advertising a clairvoyant, Madam M. Martin who would tell your fortune for fifty cents or give a life reading for $2.00. Mayme discovered the card, pocketed it and eventually made her way to the abode of Madam Martin for a reading. It was there that she met ‘Rosa Alvaro’ the spirit of a long dead Spanish lady, a kind of a guardian angel who had been watching over Mayme since childhood.

Mayme subsequently assumes the personality of Rosa and with great success charming every man and boy she encounters, including the train conductor who allows her to ride free of charge after Mayme  bats her dark eyelashes at him and purrs, “I no spik Inglis please.”    As a result of this success Mayme begins to cultivate the personality of Rosa in her off hours, eating chillis and tamales and wearing Spanish shawls and rag flowers as well as speaking with a drawling contrived Spanish accent.

Gwen persuades Mayme to go to a masked ball with her on a boat on Lake Michigan where Mayme, masquerading as Rosa meets a ‘Black Domino’ (a man in a black half-mask) who turns out to be Mr. Peacock of Goldman and Company Department store—her supervisor.   They get along famously during the masquerade and agree to meet again.   Mayme falls in love with Mr. Peacock and is now energized to continue the Rosa Alvaro impersonation.  She spends all of her money on Spanish costumes and other trappings leaving no money for food and begins to live a double life of Mayme, the drab, bored salesclerk during the day at the hoisery counter pining away for Mr. Peacock and Rosa, the vivacious Spanish femme fatale dancing the night away with Mr. Peacock.

Well, Gwen begins to worry about Mayme due to the change in personality at times and her failure to eat a good meal.  She thinks there is something mentally wrong with Mayme/Rosa and seeks help from a psychologist, Dr. McDermott Drew who is currently fending off the advances of Miss  Agatha “Gaddy” Rhader, a scented-cigarette-smoking socialite looking to continue her current inherited lifestyle with a husband of some societal position.  Dr. Drew has been looking for a good case of disassociation to study and believes he may have found it in Mayme so he agrees to see her.    After several sessions with Mayme, Dr. Drew believes he is on the way to a cure.  Mayme acknowledges that Rosa is just an old shawl and fake flowers and appears ready to relinquish the fantasy.  Mr. Peacock it turns out (and how could he not) puts two and two together and admits that he knew that Mayme was Rosa after all and he didn’t care.  He really was in love with Mayme (well, maybe?).

Gwen and Mayme get married on the same day, Gwen to James Dolan and Mayme to Mr. Peacock.  In the last chapter Gwen and Jim, Mayme and Mr. Peacock are on the boat ‘Erie’ on Lake Michigan, Mayme and Mr. Peacock at the rail of the boat watching the water when Mr. Peacock puts his arm around Mayme  and whispers “Senorita, Senorita.”  To which Mayme responds “Yeaz senor.”  Mayme,in the voice of  Rosa asks Mr. Peacock, “Ah, senor, shall Rosa go weeth yesterday or stay with to-morrow?  Speak, senor, speak!  To which Mr. Peacock softly responds “Rosa, Rosa, stay forever!  Forever, amor mio!”  “ Siempre jamas” . . .  and Rosa’s little head fell confidingly upon Mr. Peacock’s shoulder.”

The last lines go to Gwen when she says to Jim, “Say, hon, I know what psychology is.”  “Well, what is it?” asked Jim with a wise grin.  “The answer was blotted out by the purring whistle of the Erie, but as the big boat slipped across the glistening waters she left a trailing stream of smoke, which lifted in a cunningly wrought form of a giant interrogation point upon the sky.”

DISCUSSION:

Well first of all the setting of this story reminds me of the old British TV comedy series, “Are You Being Served?”  That series, set in a department store in London had  a main character Captain Peacock and two somewhat disgruntled sales ladies at the lingerie counter, Miss Shirley Brahms and Mrs. Betty Slocombe, both looking for male companionship and sometimes flirting with Mr. ( that is, Captain ) Peacock.  The pseudo-sceptics might say that Pearl Curran, using some super-duper psi looked into the future and used the characters in this 1972-1985 TV series to populate her story, much in the way they opine that Mrs. Curran used a character in Mary Johnston’s 1901  book To Have and to Hold“.  That character was a waiting maid, Patience Worth, that never appeared in the story but was used as a persona for the main character in the novel, Jocelyn Leigh.  Maybe so! , but I don’t think Pearl Curran could look into the future anymore than I think she used Mary Johnston’s character to conjur up Patience Worth in the spirit world. (Well now, Patience Worth—maybe!  After all she did write a Victorian novel about a time 200 years in the future, after she purportedly “died”.)

As I read Rosa Alvaro Entrante, I seem to hear in my mind, Pearl Curran laughing.  She does try to be entertaining in some parts, especially when she gives a Spanish voice to Rosa, which dialogue is always quoted by critics to imply that Pearl Currran was an unintelligent inept writer. After all this story was written for the Saturday Evening Post, but Pearl Curran, contrary to what may have been written about her education was no ignorant street urchin. The story has a narrator and if one wants to evaluate Pearl Curran’s skill as a writer, I think it may be more honestly judged by considering the narration rather than the dialogue of Rosa.

Some have pointed out that in this story Pearl uses dialects the same way that Patience did. The difference however is that Pearl used dialects in Rosa Alvaro Entrante of her own time, language that she was familiar with having been exposed to it in Fort Worth Texas, mining towns in Missouri and the sophisticated cities of St. Louis Missouri and Chicago Illinois.  These were dialects of Pearl’s time.  I think that one also has to remember that Pearl liked to go to movies.  Although there was no sound in movies at the time Pearl would have seen them, there were subtitles which easily could have sunk into Pearl’s subconscious mind.  (I doubt that Pearl regarded them as dialects as such but that that was just the way people talked around her or the way she thought they talked from watching movies or reading short stories in the Saturday Evening Post.) Patience Worth used dialects of her time in England and the colonies but I don’t think one can say that because Pearl used dialects from her own time in Rosa Alvaro Entrante that that is proof that she knew the dialects attributed to Patience Worth.  Pearl did not understand the dialects and words used by Patience. Those dialects and words belonged to Patience’s time on earth, be they from one era or many.  Pearl learned to write after having spent 6 years transcribing the words of Patience Worth.  It might be expected that the pupil would reflect the writing style of her master. (Six years is about the time required to get a Ph.D in English, eh!)

I think Pearl had learned to write for the audience that read the Saturday Evening Post and she wrote for herself, giving herself a soapbox of sorts to vent her feelings about men of great learning, specifically in psychology, who had harrassed her, demeaned her and trashed her reputation as a truthful and honorable person.  She knew their lingo because they had tried it all on her.

Located in the middle of the story is a jab at those critics; a kind of passive aggressiveness on the part of Pearl and, as suggested in the dialogue below, may have been a chance for Pearl to “get even.”

Here is “Gaddy” speaking for Pearl:

CHAPTER IV

Dr. McDermott Drew was complacently watching the smoke curl from his cigar as he listened to the purr of a female of the species which had curled its length upon a divan, displaying to the best advantage the well-shaped ankles and arching the slim feet as a sign of comfort, much as a cat arches its back preparatory to rubbing its sides over one’s shin.

Do tell us about it, Mac!  It’s so thrilling; secondary personality and all that.  I really look upon you as a sort of wizard. Think of being able to look at people and dissect them mentally.”
Miss Rhader yawned and drew a puff from her scented cigarette, glancing with a scrutinizing air upon her delicate wrist and hand, then looking at Doctor Drew curiously to calculate the effect her interest had produced.  “Fancy, Flo,” she went on addressing a pale girl who was aimlessly strumming a ukulele; “Fancy.  He hypnotizes them.  Really Mac, it’s positively thrilling! I should jolly well like to see a specimen of the malady.  There’s a dear, promise that I shall.”

“If the opportunity presents itself I shall have no objections, Gaddy.  But,” went on the doctor, “such cases are far from being amusing.  The disorder is so delicate a thing that it must be handled with great tact.  Absolute confidence upon the part of the patient is the first requisite, and complete cooperation is necessary or there can be no cure.  Disassociation of personalities often results in obsession and such cases are obstinate, often resulting in the entire submersion of identity and may even lead to insanity.  The use of hypnotism and suggestion in such cases  is invaluable.  Psychology has made marvelous discoveries regarding the human mind.”

“Yes, my dear Mac,” said Miss Rhader, and knows about as much about it now as it knows about the rear view of the moon.  Science has no more settled information about the human mind than I have, Mackie.  It has its perfectly good theories, but doesn’t take into consideration that while it investigates the mind it is handlilng a very uncertain quantity.  I wager you that science, your beloved science, has had many jests perpetrated upon her You needn’t explode, Mackie dear.  A cat may look at a king.  Besides, I can’t take you serioiusly.  Men are such a transparent lot, and I know women so well!  I really wonder if most any charming lady couldn’t play a very interesting game with science!”

“You are treating a very serious matter about which you know nothing, very lightly, Gaddy.  I don’t care to discuss the matter in such a light.”

“I admit, Mac, that I know very little of the subject, but I do know something of human nature, and my argument is based upon that little.  I’m willing to wager you that a clever woman might at least make things very complicated for science.  Every woman I know has a least three personalities—one she keeps to herself, one she displays to other women, and the last and most alien is the one she shows to men.”

Dr. Drew nodded and taking up a fresh cigar and lighting it he continued from his own point of view;  It would be an easy matter to trace the origin of the disassociation, and with this as a basis go over the data, culling out deceptions.  Yes, I may add that the very nature of the deceptions may give a valuable key to the whole investigation.  You are childish Gaddy, as usual; and woman-cunning, but not convincing.  Run along and play, and if you would not expose your depth do not discuss such matters.

I don’t mind telling you, Mac that the whole thing is ghastly to me.  The more I think of it the more horrible the idea of a spiritual dissecting room becomes.  The psychological corpse has no more chance than the other kind, but I’ve more faith in its ability to get even.  Come on, Flo, let him revel in his mysteries.  We will meet you at the Auditorium at five, Mac.  Au revoir.”

There is so much of Pearl’s life experience in the above dialogue between Gaddy and  psychologist, Dr. Drew.  Pearl  is tongue-in-cheek parroting what had been said to her over the past 6 years by psychologists and psychiatrists who arrogantly hoped to dissect her from the corpse of Patience Worth while at the same time she was giving them what they expected from all women of her day —deference to male superior intelligence i.e., “Run along and play, and if you would not expose your depth, do not discuss such matters.”

Really, if there is any hidden message in this story it is to reveal to the world Pearl’s experience with psychologists who wanted to psychoanalyze her.    It’s not a subtle attempt by Pearl to reveal that she faked Patience Worth.  Pearl never assumed the personality of Patience Worth as Mayme assumed the Rosa personality.    To the last days of their lives both Pearl and her friend Emily Hutchings, who first received the Patience Worth dictations with Pearl, always maintained that Patience Worth was a separate entity.  Pearl didn’t start wearing Puritan frocks and eating porridge, pot scrape and pork drip.

The story ends with a big question mark about—psychology, not about impersonators or disassociated personalities.   The story questions what is psychology?  Is it a “cure” for what mentally ails you .  Or is the question the one asked by Mayme/Rosa, “Shall Rosa go with yesterday or stay with tomorrow?  That is, is it better to “cure” someone of a behavior because it may be out of the norm, or to allow the behavior to continue without treatment if it brings happiness to those involved.  Maybe that’s Pearl’s question to those who criticize her. Why analyze me?  This works for me!  Don’t try to cure me!

The bottom line is,  all of the components of Rosa Alvaro Entrante written by Pearl Lenore Curran (not Patience Worth) can be easily traced to happenings in the life of Pearl Curran.  e.g., her unmarried life as a working-girl in Chicago, knowledge of department store working experience,  knowledge of Lake Michigan, the Park, masked balls on the ‘Erie’ on Lake Michigan,  Wabash Avenue, State Street, mediums, evaluation by psychologists, young romance, Chicago hot hotel rooms, the language of early 20th century Chicago etc. etc.  All of these things were part of the life or thoughts of Pearl Curran. They can be easily documented.  To the contrary, few or none of the components of Patience Worth’s writing in Telka, The Elizabethan Mask, Redwing, The Merry Tale, The Sorry Tale, and others writings can be found in the life of Pearl Curran. Where did this information come from if not from something experienced by Pearl Curran, either directly by living it or surreptitiously by hearing others talk about or clandestinely reading it in novels, history books, silent movies, or encyclopedias?  She clearly used her life experiences to write Rosa Alvaro Entrante.  I have yet to hear anyone explain how Pearl Curran could have written the language of Telka.  Please read it online and see what you think?

Poor Pearl!  Apparently It wasn’t enough that psychiatrists, psychologists, physicians and other professorial types attempted to denigrate her during her lifetime, because more than 60 years later at least two amateur arm-chair ‘psychologists’ from the safety of their ivory-tower English Departments continued the quest to relegate Patience Worth and Pearl Curran to the dungeon of psychoneurosis, deceit,  fraud, and, believe it or not, sexual repression. I find it interesting that the two Ph.D. English professors who have recently critiqued the Pearl Curran/Patience Worth case, Professor Daniel Shea Ph.D. and Professor Mia Grandolfi-Wall Ph.D.— one in a book, The Patience of Pearl  (2012) and one in a Ph.D. dissertation with the pretentious title Rediscovering Pearl Curran: Solving the Mystery of Patience Worth  (2000)—have, surprisingly neglected to discuss the language of Patience Worth and issues related to their own specialty—English.  Ms. Grandolfi-Wall critiques the life of Pearl Curran as one would critique an historical novel giving her psychoanalytic opinions concerning the intent and motivation of Pearl Curran.   But both Ph.Ds. attack surreptitiously the existence of a spirit source of the writing of Patience Worth and directly the honesty and morality of Pearl Curran.   One apparently is expected to believe that their expertise in English qualifies them to psychoanalyze Pearl Curran from a distance and provide a mental-health diagnosis from which they seem to be able to identify cause and source of Patience Worth.

What a missed opportunity to write a book or dissertation on English usage by Patience Worth; comparison of her writing styles, her use of grammar and syntax, her use of archaic words.  It seems to me that anyone teaching English for many years or writing a dissertation for a Ph.D. in English would focus on what they were supposed to know the most about , that is, English usage and literature.  But Dr. Shea opines that brain neuronal imaging, if available in the 1920s, may have been a way to explain away Patience Worth.  He implies mental and emotional instability when he passes along poorly documented 3rd and 4th-hand gossip besmirching the reputation of  Pearl Curran, intimating that she was an adulteress, that she was a disinterested mother, that her 15 year-old step-daughter had a child out of wedlock which Pearl claimed was an orphan and adopted and that she lived a life of regret that she could not express her gender identity in an oppressive patriarchal society.  (Grandolfi-Wall thought Pearl had a problem with her difficulty to express her sexual identity. She’s an English major remember!)  None of this has anything to do with the crux of the Pearl Curan/Patience Worth enigma—language and knowledge source.  Neither of these English language ‘experts’ addressed the writing of Patience Worth.   It is as if these authors were biased from the start to debunk a spiritual source of the writing of Patience Worth and jump on the women’s rights band wagon by making Pearl’s motivation for Patience Worth her life-long deprecation as a female.

Rosa Alvaro Entrante is just an entertaining story written by Pearl Curran for the Saturday Evening Post, nothing more and nothing less: or is it? (to be continued)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ASSIGNMENT FOR TODAY.

LilacI sometimes like to imagine that I am teaching a class in English literature or poetry and walk into class with something like what is in the photograph at the right.  I don’t say much to the students but just walk up to my desk and place it in the middle of the desk.  If one is familiar with plants of the temperate zone, one might recognize that plant part as the mature inflorescence of lilac flowers.  These are the seed pods of lilac flowers that bloomed, heavy scented in billows of lavender, blue, purple, or white blossoms unrivaled for attention in the spring but now, in the fall, are almost unnoticed by passersby.

All I would say to the students is, “Write a poem about this.”  There would be a lot of rumbling amongst the students, and a few questions like “What is it.”, “I can’t do that!”, to which I would respond, “It’s a lilac flower, you can do it.”  Then I would just say, “You’ve got 15 minutes.”  Oh, probably some students would have 3 or four lines about lilacs but most would still be bruising their brain at the end of 15 minutes.  Then, I would smugly provide each student a copy of the poem that Patience Worth wrote about browned lilacs and say, “This is what she did!”

(Before you read the following poem by Patience Worth try to write one of your own.  You can take as long as you like.)

 

STRIPPED LILACS

I dinna believe I would have recalled
When the lilacs had browned,
For their purple plumes had nodded
Blithesomely upon the sunlit airs.
I dinna believe I would have recalled them so.
But the sun had stood high,
And the little fleece-clouds had played
At skipping o’er the gold-sprayed sky;
And the birds had skimmed the heights
Calling their music shrill, high upon the vasty ways,
And the brook was chattering beside,
Telling, telling of the mountain’s gab.

And I was youthed, and stepped the pathways
Joy-sped, listening to the bird’s songs,
Knowing the nodding of the lilac plumes,
Taking in their perfume, plucking them
To deck my love which pulsed in youthfulness.

Ah me, but that day hath gone,
And the skies are grey, and the clouds
Have wearied, sinking low to rest
Upon the earth’s rim.  And I—Ah,
I too am weary.  No longer
Doth Youth send her wine for my supping—
And the lilacs are bare, bare, but their spears
Stand brown against a silver sky,
Like old script writ of some older day!

Oh, I dinna believe that I
Would have recalled the lilacs so!

Well, I don’t know about you, but I would have to labor over a poem like this.  It’s not only the creativity and beautiful use of words but the thought that had to be there first before the words could come. Those who believe that Pearl Curran created this poem out of her subconscious mind need to remember that this poem, like all the other writing of Patience Worth was given sometimes letter by letter or word by word as fast as it could be written down by the stenographer.  Fifteen minutes may have been more than enough time for delivery. There was no hesitation, no fumbling for the perfect word, no writing and rewriting, no re-arranging lines as is often done by poets as their subconscious mind provides them thoughts to write down.  It’s as if the poem had already been composed and Patience Worth (or Pearl Curran) was just reciting it for her listeners. I ask you, who of you would not be proud to have written this poem?

Dr. Walter Franklin Prince in his investigation of the Patience Worth case wrote:

“Suppose that any living poet you can name were to have more than thirty subjects fired at him one after another in a single evening, and attempt to improvise, with the result that he orally delivered 32 short poems and 7 more or less witty and aphoristic remarks, the whole containing 1360 words!  Is there one who would dare to be put to the test?  Edgar Lee Masters, had listened to the improvisation of a number of poems by Patience Worth on subjects given, he was asked if he knew of any writer who could do the like, and replied, “There is but one answer to that question, it simply cannot be done.”

Almost universally the poets employ time and reflection and pains upon their work, and after the first draft of a set of verses is made,  go over it and revise,  some of them repeatedly. . . . .This evening’s work, 32 brief poems, and 7 other utterances, each started a few seconds after the subject was given by some one of the company present, contains no alteration either at the time or subsequently, but is here given as Patience Worth dictated and her words were taken down.”

Well, Dr. Prince may say this but we all know that Pearl Curran and other editors did smooth out the rough spots of some of the writing of Patience Worth prior to publishing.  (See “Typos”.)

 

WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?

Spect Scan PearlThere are those who would like to believe that Pearl Curran created Patience Worth out of her imagination drawing upon subliminal information stored somewhere in the neurons of her brain.  There are some who believe that functional MRIs or SPECT scans, if available during the early 1900s would have easily been able to identify parts of Pearl’s brain from which the Patience Worth material originated.  All Pearl had to do was to dissociate a little bit and presto, in the words of one pseudoskeptic, “case closed”— Pearl Curran made it all up!BRAIN SCAN PEARL2

Brain Scan Pearl3
OK, let’s go with that!  Now let’s see,—just what must Pearl have been thinking when she sat with Emily Hutchings at the Ouija Board?  Well, in the beginning Pearl was probably thinking how uninterested she was with Emily Hutchings wanting to experiment with the Ouija board; she would rather play cards or go to the movies.    Although Pearl probably envied Emily and her notoriety as a writer and homemaking expert—recognized by the “big women” in St. Louis—she felt that she just didn’t have the talent or the drive that Emily did— and besides she had a family to care for— and after several tedious sessions at the Ouija board with Emily, she was thinking how bored she was in spite of Emily’s enthusiasm for continuing to contact her relatives who had gone to the “great beyond” i.e. her mother Margaret Schmidt.  And when Pearl’s father died, after a couple of months of trying to contact Emily’s mother, Pearl just didn’t have it in her to continue under the circumstances.  So she stopped placating Emily and said,  “No more!”

Apparently Emily continued to bring her Ouija board over to the Curran’s house, because the records document that Emily would continue to plead with Pearl to participate, so—to please Emily—after a few months Pearl acquiesced and placed her fingers on the planchette along with Emily’s again.  This time maybe they could contact Pearl’s recently deceased father as well as Emily’s mother.  This went on for a good year or so until Pearl couldn’t stand it any more.  Emily was beside herself with enthusiasm bouncing up and down as a word or two came through. She just couldn’t sit still.  Pearl was rolling her eyes each time Emily ecstatically spelled out a message from the “spirit world”

“Well, enough is enough”, Pearl thought to herself.  “Wouldn’t it be great fun to make Emily think she had contacted a real spirit.  Let’s see now what will I call it.  Patsy?  No , that sounds like a little girl.  How about Pat, Pat something or other— PAT-C,  PAT-C.  PATRICIA CURRAN?  John’s dead aunt?   No, that’s not good.  I don’t know if he even had an aunt!  What would be a good name?”

“Oh, I know.  It just popped into my head!  How about the English waiting woman that I read about in Mary Johnston’s  novel ‘To Have and To Hold’ .  I don’t remember much of it— maybe daddy read it to me a long time ago when I was in school—but I think that there was a character called “Patience Worth” in that book.    That sounds like an old name; I’ll tell Emily it’s  ‘Patience Worth’ she has contacted   Emily will just flip out!  I’ll have a good laugh and the joke’s on her.  Maybe that will satisfy her and we can play some cards, play the piano and sing or go to a movie!”

“Wait a minute!”

“The problem is if Emily’s takes this seriously, which she probably will, I will need to think up things for Patience Worth to say—a,—a,—a. maybe something old-sounding using thee’s and thou’s, shalt’s and shant’s like a long dead spirit would say.  I don’t know—maybe something from the old songs I used to sing would help.    I don’t know anything about history, archaic language,  literature or poetry but I probably could write some poems, like the one I wrote in grade school, (which daddy didn’t like) and in my spare time when no one was looking, I could memorize them and then spell them out letter by letter with Emily at the Ouija board. That’s it!  Maybe I could think up some stories too—something historical (hysterical would be better! Ha! Ha!).  Maybe a big novel about ancient Rome and – – -Oh! wait a minute! How about a novel about Jesus? I could re-write the Bible!!!”

” I could write something about Medieval times—just like Chaucer did. (Wait a minute! How did he slip into my mind? That sly dog!  Who is Chaucer anyway?)  I could write like Shakespeare! (Ugh!  I couldn’t stand him.  He puts me to sleep.)  Maybe I could come up with a story about a “brat” in Victorian England. (What do I know about England? Never been there.  Never read about it.  I’ve got a lot of studying to do!) I could write about an old potter in the middle east. (Well, I do know about a group of women called the ‘Potters’ in St. Louis, but they’re no longer around.) And there might be a big market for a story about a girl who pretends to be a boy? Well, maybe not now, but  hey!, wait until women get the vote!”

“Wow, I ‘m on a roll!”

“I’ll just have to be careful so that no one in my family sees me working on this material.  I will have to look up all of this stuff in the library or John’s ‘cyclopedia in the closet upstairs or somewhere else ’cause I don’t know anything about England, history or literature.”

“Whew!, This is going to take a lot of time!”

“It’s like giving birth, I guess, but, Oh, Miss Scarlet, I don’t know nuthin ’bout birthin’ babies!  (Now where did that come from? It just popped into my mind.  I must have stole it using my ESP or Super-Psi from somebody, maybe a story that hasn’t been written  yet!.)”

“Yeah, well, men think women can’t do anything other than have babies, clean the house and cook, but I’ll show them I can do something else.  I’m tired of being kept down by the men in my life!”

“Nobody stopped Emily!  No man told her what to do!  She almost became a doctor!  Her mother did!   I may not be a doctor and  I may not be able to vote but I can still have my say.”

“I’ll become a writer, just like Emily but better than her!  Patience Worth will do it for me. Yeah, well, I don’t care if I don’t get the credit.  I will be happy just to have a voice.  I’ll get a lot of attention that way and get out of this boring male-dominated life.”