Tell the stories of six enterprising Victorian women whose apparent ability to move between the realms of the dead and the living allowed them to cross rigid boundaries of gender and class, and to summon unique political voices.
Midorikawa breathes life into these long-ago women in ways that make them feel contemporary despite their extraordinary circumstances and distance in time. Her description of Harding enduring an incident of stalking resonates with chilling familiarity. You’ll feel these women’s frustration and conviction, and you’ll cheer at their progressive empowerment ... It’s remarkable that none of these women seems disingenuous. Throughout Out of the Shadows, they occupy a liminal space between genuine belief in supernatural forces and the ingenious ways they used those forces to their own ends. By the book’s end, it no longer matters whether you believe these six remarkable spirit mediums were hoaxes or not; you’ll certainly believe in them.
... a large and variously peopled world of rights conventions, séances and legal proceedings, where suffragists, abolitionists, spiritualists and charlatans mixed in and out of drawing rooms. This is the great strength of Out of the Shadows; it offers up a tapestry of complex characters with conflicted motivations, woven together with the color of ghostly apparitions (and angry mobs) ... Ms. Midorikawa leaves the reader to draw final conclusions. Perhaps most interesting of all, however, is the book’s presentation of these women as being both seen and heard. They are not mere embellishments of the parlor, nor are they, like the spirits they claimed to summon, mere disembodied voices in the night. Each of them stood before a public world where women had not yet gained basic human rights and demanded the spotlight. And this is visionary indeed.
Midorikawa’s chosen Spiritualists are a colorful bunch, and her lively writing makes their careers fun to follow. But why bring them together in a book? The author ventures that these six women acquired a 'voice within a patriarchal society' and, as such, belong in our accounts of 'the journey toward female empowerment.' True, every one of those visionaries knew how to draw a crowd. It’s true, too, that Spiritualists as a group played a major role in spreading the message about women’s rights throughout the 19th century and that merely by standing up and speaking in public they were defying Victorian gender norms. Yet the goal of advancing feminism played little role in prompting the careers of the women described by Midorikawa ... Other Spiritualists would have made a much better fit as feminists, but Midorikawa’s ensemble do belong together in a different book — one that explores the making of popular entertainments in the 19th century and the origins of celebrity.