Pre-Raphaelites in the Spirit World: The Séance Diary of William Michael Rossetti 

A Spirit Drawing - by Anna Mary Howitt

In 2021 I co-wrote Pre-Raphaelites in the Spirit World alongside Professor Barrie Bullen and Lenore Beaky. This fascinating project entailed transcribing, contextualising and providing explanatory notes for William Michael Rossetti’s Séance Diary – a remarkable document in both the history of Pre-Raphaelitism and nineteenth-century spiritualism.

In this previously unpublished manuscript, Rossetti meticulously recorded twenty séances between 1865 and 1868. The original motive was the death, in 1862, of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s wife, Elizabeth Siddal. He felt a profound sense of guilt about her and began these séances to reassure himself that she was happy in the afterlife. Messages came from many spirits within the Pre-Raphaelite circle and provide an unprecedented record of spiritualist activity in the late nineteenth century. Questions and answers fill the pages of the diary, many of them communicating uncannily accurate information or details that could be known only to the participants.

This book also includes another unpublished document showing spiritualism in action. It comprises a long letter to Dante Gabriel Rossetti written in 1856 from the artist and spiritualist medium Anna Mary Howitt recounting her interactions with the spirit world and her (sometimes violent) experiences as she became aware of the extent of her psychic powers. Both sections of this book provide an original insight into the cult of spiritualism and throw considerable light on the interactions between members of the Pre-Raphaelite circle and beyond.

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