Over the years many people who have thought about the Pearl Curran/Patience Worth story have offered opinions, unsupported by evidence, to explain how Pearl Curran did what she did, that is how did she obtain the knowledge to write several historical novels and plays and several thousand poems without having (according to Pearl) any interest in writing or without an advanced education in language or literature although she did admit to reading a few popular books as a young girl and that her father had read a few current novels to her when she was a teenager. She admits to reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Black Beauty but Pearl had no interest in biblical or historical novels and had none in her meager library of books. Pearl Curran had not traveled widely, having no opportunity to see England or the Middle East , the setting for her novels and plays. The “problem” with the Pearl Curran saga has been from the beginning, Just how did she know all of the information about a long span of history in Europe and the Middle East without having travelled there or ever read or studied it. The crux of the Patience Worth/Pearl Curran story is “The Problem of Knowledge” as expounded upon by Casper Yost in Walter Franklin Prince’s book The Case of Patience Worth..
There is no evidence to support the idea that Pearl Curran had read or experienced anything that she wrote about as Patience Worth. Of course Pearl Curran, under her own name wrote at least three short stories which were published in the Saturday Evening Post and which were apparently good enough that she received money for them. In those stories Pearl Curran did use events which she had experienced in her own lifetime either as a salesclerk in Chicago or in her confrontations with physicians, psychologists and educators who met with her in St. Louis , often in an effort to debunk her claim that Patience Worth was a disembodied spirit.
While I am still trying to figure out just how Pearl Curran knew what she knew, I have no conclusive evidence to support what I will present in the following, I do want to share my thoughts, that is, my opinion, as others have, about what could have provided at least a general milieu which Pearl Curran may have experienced and stored in her subconscious mind and which later formed the setting for “The Sorry Tale” written by Patience Worth.
Although Pearl Curran stated that she did not go to church or Sunday-School as a very young child she stated that she did go to a Methodist or Baptist Sunday-School as a grade-schooler and was “irregularly taken to the Episcopal Sunday-School of St. Andrew’s, rector Alexander Castle. I was confirmed by Bishop Garrett.”, she said. She stated that she was sent to the Catholic St. Ignatius’ Academy for ‘rest’. It’s difficult to believe that after irregularly going to Methodist, Baptist and Catholic schools and being confirmed in the Episcopalian church that some of that Christian teaching would not have rubbed-off on her. It is unbelievable that some of it would not have sunk into her subconscious mind.
Pearl Curran admitted that she had attended Christian churches occasionally from childhood, and as an adult she sang in the choirs. Neither she nor her parents were considered to be especially religious however. She did admit to having a Bible in the house which was observed by Dr. Walter Franklin Prince at the time he conducted his investigation of the Case of Patience Worth. I have in my possession a copy of an inexpensive, common Bible which was purchased by my family in 1938 which has several full color illustrations of biblical scenes.. It also has a “Bible Readers’ Aides” in the back from “The Bible Reader’s Manual,” edited by The Rev. Charles H.H. Wright, D.D.. My copy is annotated as “American Edition” Rearranged by the American Editor with a Copyright of 1901 by Louis Klopsch. Of course I don’t know if the Bible found by Dr. Prince in Pearl Curran’s home in 1926 was the same or similar edition as the one I have but if it was, perhaps Pearl Curran would have had access to it as a young woman and may have at least glanced through it from time to time. In the Readers’ Aid there are printed many photographs and drawings of scenes of Jerusalem, Nazareth, Tiberias, Bethlehem, The Golden Gate of Jerusalem, and a page of Roman and other coins apparently used during the time of Jesus. More importantly there are maps of the Holy Lands as well as a schematic of Herod’s Temple, Ancient Jerusalem, Palestine, The Sea of Galilee among several others.
It is not too far-fetched to think that if Pearl Curran had seen these pages in her Bible. Perhaps these images were retained in her subconscious mind and were drawn upon by Pearl at the time Patience Worth constructed the setting for The Sorry Tale.
THE 1904 WORLD’S FAIR
In 1904 St. Louis Missouri was the site of the World’s Fair extravaganza. Pearl Curran would have been 21 years old at the time and living in the small town of Bismark Missouri, not far from St. Louis and her grandmother and aunt with whom she had lived as a young girl lived in St. Louis. It seems probable to me that Pearl Curran would have visited the World’s Fair in St. Louis since it was a world-class production, perhaps analogous to Disney World of our time. Many if not most of the grand buildings, layout, statuary and landscaping copied the classical architecture of the Greco- Roman era and could have been retained in the subconscious mind of Pearl Curran to be drawn upon as part of the visual images Pearl Curran saw in her mind’s eye when Patience Worth described Roman scenes in The Sorry Tale.
THE PICTURE SHOWS
Pearl Curran has admitted that she and her family, as did many middle-class families during the early 20th century, enjoyed going to the movies.. Now movies prior to 1927 were silent but apparently they were well-attended especially in larger cities such as St. Louis Missouri and Chicago where Pearl lived and worked for several years as a young single woman. While watching a movie is not the same as reading a book, during Pearl’s time there was written dialogue flashed on the screen to read.
Relevant to the Patience Worth/ Pearl Curran case is an early one-reel silent 1907 film adaptation of the Novel “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ” written by Lew Wallace and first published on November 12, 1880, three years before Pearl Curran was born. According to an internet site, the book was considered to be “The most influential Christian book of the nineteenth century” It was the best-selling American novel from the time of its publication, superseding Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin ( which Pearl said she had read) and remained at the top until the publication of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind in 1936.” (The year before Pearl Curran died in 1937.)
Reportedly Wallace “Determined to have the novel be historically accurate, Wallace gathered references concerning the Middle East during the time period of his novel, visiting libraries all over America and studying the Bible closely, to give his story authenticity. He intended to identify the plants, birds, names, architectural practices and so on. He wrote, ‘I examined catalogues of books and maps and sent for everything likely to be useful.. I wrote with a chart always before my eyes—a German publication showing the towns and villages, all sacred places, the heights, the depressions, the passes, trails, and distances” He recounts traveling to research the exact proportions for the Roman triremes.
The Sorry Tale was praised by many for its details of the life of the Romans, Jews, Greeks and Arabs at that time. However in contrast to Lew Wallace, Pearl Curran had no reference material spread out before her when she dictated The Sorry Tale. It just flowed out of the Ouija Board letter by letter, unpunctuated and transcribed by her husband John Curran. Pearl Curran must have had a one-of-a-kind memory or a much facilitated subconscious mind—or—The Sorry Tale was really written by Patience Worth, a spirit from the 1600s—or—Pearl was picking through the mind of Lew Wallace using her, alleged by some, ‘super-duper’ psi abilities. Although he died in 1905, approximately 10 years before The Sorry Tale was written, perhaps Wallace helped Patience Worth in the Great Beyond to fill in the details of the story—or—perhaps Pearl used her psi abilities to communicate directly with Wallace in the hereafter. (You see, anyone, including me, can confabulate stories about how Pearl Curran obtained the knowledge she displayed in the writing of Patience Worth.)
THE STAGE PLAYS
Of special relevance to Pearl Curran was the stage adaptation of Ben-Hur which became a “smash hit” in Britain and in the United States. From 1899 it played in theatres for a total of 21 years and was seen by more than 20 million people. Apparently the key spectacle of the show was a live chariot race on stage using real horses and real chariots. The play was presented at the Illinois Theatre in Chicago in 1901 at the time when the 18-year-old Pearl Curran was living in Chicago taking piano lessons and working at odd jobs. It is difficult for me to believe that a young vivacious single woman living in Chicago at the time of the presentation of an awe-inspiring and much talked-about production of Ben-Hur would not have gone to see it. At least she would have been aware of it and probably saw the posters and ads for it. (Actually in response to a question from Dr. Walter Franklin Prince concerning the Roman emperor Nero , Pearl replies that “I saw a poster of ‘Ben Hur’ with her name on it.” The ‘her’ referred to was Nero’s wife, Poppea.)
Although I have not read Ben-Hur I believe, from reading the summaries of the story, that it was not similar to the story in Patience Worth’s The Sorry Tale although it did have scenes of the crucifixion.
Other Biblical novels were available during the early life of Pearl Curran including The Prince of the House of David (1855) and Quo Vadis: a Narrative of the Time of Nero, written by Henryk Sienkiewicz in Polish and published in 1896 as a book. It was translated into more than 50 languages.
Now I don’t know if all of that forgoing information really has any relevance to Pearl
Curran and Patience Worth but if one is looking for a source of input into the subconscious mind of Pearl Curran which she might retrieve for the setting for The Sorry Tale, then I think that these sources enumerated above could have easily provided it and motivated Pearl to write another epic story, as was common at that time, of the period surrounding the life of Jesus.. At least those resources would have provided a ‘feel’ and detailed authenticity of the era about which she wrote. (The Sorry Tale was often praised for the amount of detail included in it, detail about which Pearl supposedly knew nothing but as indicated above, Lew Wallace knew a lot!) The story line in The Sorry Tale is not similar to Ben-Hur nor Quo Vadis, nor is the language usage the same. The language of The Sorry Tale is unique and does not belong to any place or time but is wholly, I think, an invention of Pearl Curran or Patience Worth or—maybe not!
What do you think?