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.
The 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.”
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:
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 handling 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)