I can’t believe how long it is since I last featured Emily Midorikawa here on Linda’s Book Bag. Then I was reviewing her book A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Bronte, Eliot and Woolf jointly authored with Emma Sweeney. You’ll find my review here and a super guest post from these two ladies concerning sisterhood in modern times here. Now, it’s the first of two publication days for Emily’s latest book, Out of the Shadows: Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice and I’m thrilled she has agreed to stay in with me today to tell me all about it.
Staying in with Emily Midorikawa
Welcome back to Linda’s Book Bag, Emily. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
I’m delighted to be here, Linda. Thanks so much for having me.
My pleasure. Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
I’ve brought my latest book, Out of the Shadows: Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice, which comes out today, 11th May 2021, in the US and on 20th May in the UK.
Happy US publication day! What’s Out of the Shadows about?
It’s a group biography about several nineteenth-century women who achieved rockstar-like levels of celebrity, and enormous political and cultural clout – all thanks to their supposed abilities to contact the dead.
Gosh – that’s quite a subject! Tell me, what can we expect from an evening in with Out of the Shadows?
An unusual insight into the late nineteenth century, at least I hope so. My book focuses on six women who can be regarded as leading lights of the Victorian Spiritualist movement. American sisters Kate, Leah and Maggie Fox left behind relatively humble backgrounds to become the talk of New York society, and spark an international séance craze. But things would eventually go spectacularly wrong for the Fox sisters and their lives would end in bitter infighting and mutual recrimination.
The Fox sisters sound like many families I think! What about the other women?
London-born Emma Hardinge Britten, a renowned orator, famous for delivering her speeches while in a trance, became so popular that she was asked to deliver New York City’s first public commemoration to the assassinated president Abraham Lincoln. Victoria Woodhull used her reputation as a clairvoyant to ultimately make an even bigger political splash. Following a trailblazing career on Wall Street as the proprietor of the first female-owned brokerage firm, she went on to become the first woman to run as an American presidential candidate. And as for Georgina Weldon, after her husband tried to have her locked away in an asylum, she retaliated in a very public way, fighting him in the courts and the press, and becoming a prominent campaigner against Britain’s archaic lunacy laws. Georgina became so famous, in fact, that she ended up as the face of the iconic Pears soap brand.
Oh! I think we all know that image. Goodness. I’m thrilled to have Out of the Shadows on my TBR as I think it sounds utterly fascinating.
What else have you brought along this evening Emily, and why have you brought it?
As you might imagine, my research has taken me to many unusual and out-of-of the-way locations. Here I am, four months’ pregnant with my first baby and ankle-deep in snow, at the site of the Fox family’s former home in the rural hamlet of Hydesville, in New York state. Even close to two centuries on, this is still a site of pilgrimage for believers in the sisters’ powers, and also people like me who are interested in the Foxes’ historical legacy. On this site, so the story goes, the youngest sisters, Kate and Maggie, first began to communicate with the spirit of a travelling salesman, said to have been murdered and buried beneath the cellar by a former occupant of the house.I’ve also brought along this pair of my late Great Aunt Jessie’s opera glasses, which, although not directly related to my book, seem to me to symbolise a couple of its key themes. One is the very human desire to want to retain a link with departed loved ones, one which the women I write about certainly made the most of – and some would say exploited. The other theme is that of theatre. Two of my six subjects had a background in performance.
That would make sense…
Before establishing herself as a ‘trance lecturer’, Emma Hardinge Britten had a West End and Broadway career. And Georgina Weldon, who hailed from an aristocratic background, had been a real favourite at the musical soirées and amateur theatrical performances of Britain’s high society. In the case of the other women, too, there was more often than not a sense of heightened drama at their private spirit readings and the mass séances in packed concert halls of their wildly popular public tours.
And last but not least, I’ve got some tea and biscuits for us to enjoy. I’m pregnant again at the moment, with the baby due next month, so I can’t have anything much stronger than that. But in a way, the tea is an apt choice, as it’s the drink that’s most sustained me through the research, writing and seemingly endless rewriting of Out of the Shadows.
As someone addicted to tea and biscuits I’m more than happy with that Emily. Congratulations – on your forthcoming child and on Out of the Shadows. I think I’m going to love it when it hits the top of my TBR pile! Thank you so much for staying in with me and chatting about these extraordinary women.
Thanks for having me Linda.
Now, you pour the tea and I’ll give Linda’s Book Bag readers a bit more information about Out of the Shadows:
Out of the Shadows
Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice
Queen Victoria’s reign was an era of breathtaking social change, but it did little to create a platform for women to express themselves. But not so within the social sphere of the séance – a mysterious, lamp-lit world on both sides of the Atlantic, in which women who craved a public voice could hold their own.
Out of the Shadows tells the stories of the enterprising women whose supposedly clairvoyant gifts granted them fame, fortune, and most important, influence as they crossed rigid boundaries of gender and class as easily as they passed between the realms of the living and the dead. The Fox sisters inspired some of the era’s best-known political activists and set off a transatlantic séance craze. While in the throes of a trance, Emma Hardinge Britten delivered powerful speeches to crowds of thousands. Victoria Woodhull claimed guidance from the spirit world as she took on the millionaires of Wall Street before becoming America’s first female presidential candidate. And Georgina Weldon narrowly escaped the asylum before becoming a celebrity campaigner against archaic lunacy laws.
Drawing on diaries, letters, and rarely seen memoirs and texts, Emily Midorikawa illuminates a radical history of female influence that has been confined to the dark until now.
Out of the Shadows: Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice is be published by Counterpoint LLC today, 11th May 2021 in America and will be released in the UK on 20th May. Out of the Shadows: Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice is available in all the usual places including Amazon, Blackwell’s and Book Depository
About Emily Midorikawa
Author image courtesy of Rosalind Hobley
Emily Midorikawa is the author of Out of the Shadows: Six Visionary Victorian Women in Search of a Public Voice, published by Counterpoint Press on 11 May 2021. She is also the co-author of A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Brontё, Eliot and Woolf (written with Emma Claire Sweeney). Emily is a winner of the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. Her journalism has been published in, among others, the Daily Telegraph, the Paris Review, The Times and the Washington Post.