“[T]he relationship between who is a real person and who is a fictional person becomes more ontologically uncertain.”

The story of a woman who claimed to be the medium for a prolific ghost with talent. Was it really a ghost? Was it just her pen name? Or was it something more?:

Pearl Curran, “medium” for the New England Puritan ghost of Patience Worth.

“Curran’s output prompts us to ask some fundamental questions about history, genre, intention, affect, authorship, and why we choose to read what we read. Furthermore, her writings are a fascinating curio of an era in American literary history when academics and quacks, the rational and the occult, scholarship and magic all mingled together in popular discourse…

Between the possibilities of Patience Worth’s reality and Pearl Curran’s duplicity there exists a third option: that Pearl Curran transcribed these works believing Patience Worth to be real, a creation of her own mind communicating these words back to her. An internal muse if you will, whose existence serves to reevaluate the simple individual models of authorship we conventionally hold to. As such, her corpus provides an occasion for thinking about where inspiration comes from, how authors generate their writings, and the ways in which something as seemingly well understood as writing still contains a kernel of mystery at its core.

…[T]here is much literary merit in Curran’s work – so why then this neglect? The bizarre origin of the writings shouldn’t be an impediment to a reasoned study of their structural qualities. After all, William Butler Yeats attributed several of his lyrics to a spirit named Leo Africanus whom he encountered through the use of a Ouija board while a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Without suggesting that the writings of Curran and Yeats are of similar artistic value, it would seem that dismissing them entirely on the grounds that there is a connection to the occult is unfair if a similar standard isn’t applied to Yeats…
A heteronym is a particularly complicated pen-name; in addition to a false name there is an entirely false identity, a fictional writer where literariness is extratextual to the poem or book itself. These concepts, of the heteronym and the muse, inspiration and authorship raise interesting questions about the epistemology and ontology of literature. Where does literature ultimately come from? What is legitimate as an object of reading and study? Can a literary hoax still be read as literature?”

Read the rest at: The Public Domain Review.
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