The Novelist Who Wrote from Beyond the Grave

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON ASSOCIATED CONTENT, AUGUST 28, 2007

If you are a contributor to Associated Content or any other web site, what is your preferred method of composing literary greatness? Sitting on your back porch and writing in longhand upon yellow legal notebooks? Trapping yourself inside an empty room with nothing but your brain and your laptop to keep you company?

Consulting a Ouija Board and then writing down the dictated novels of a woman from beyond the grave? Yeah, me too.

Seriously, in the early years of the 20th century a number of novels were published that supposedly were not actually attributed to the woman who “wrote” them, but rather were the imaginative flights of fancy from the soul of a long dead literary kindred spirit. It was the summer of 1913 and a skeptic named J.H. Curran finally broke down and took part in a séance involving a Ouija Board, which was enjoying one of its infrequent periods of great notoriety and fame. J.H. Curran placed her hand upon the plastic device that is said to be guided from beyond the grave and spelled out the name Patience Worth. An odd name that certainly has the ring of age to it, Patience Worth eventually passed along such biographical information as her place and date of birth: Dorset, England in the 1600s.

Patience also told J.H. Curran about how she had followed her family to America before her sudden and untimely death in an attack by Indians.

But what is most unusual about this particular story of a life being told from beyond the grave is that Patience Worth didn’t stop with her own story; she narrated fascinating tale to Mrs. Curran; a series of historical fictions which eventually were written and published under titles like Hope Trueblood, which was set in the 19th century-some two-hundred years after Patience’s death, and The Sorry Tale, which was a novel set during the time of Jesus Christ. Believe it or don’t, but Hope Trueblood in particular received much critical acclaim apart from the mysterious fact that it had allegedly been conceived by a woman who lay buried in the ground for

But all the credit must not go to the ghost of Patience Worth. Mrs. Curran had a great deal of patience herself, proving that she was capable of writing two of Patience’s novels simultaneously. She would get the dictation for one story and write out a chapter, then get the dictation for another and write that out, continuing to write two completely different novels without seeming to ever get confused or intermix even thematic elements. Indeed, it wasn’t just the novel at which Patience and Mrs. Curran excelled; the result of this unlikely collaboration included poetry as well. Curran never varied from her story that the novels and poems were the work of Patience Worth rather than her own, and she typically referred to the ghost of Patience as her “wonderful friend.”