January 27, 2010

Captivity, Deborah Noyes

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:11 pm by manasadevi

Captivity is a novel that for whatever reason I didn’t expect a lot from, and one that pleasantly knocked my socks off. Written by Deborah Noyes, the editor of ghost story anthoogies Gothic! (2004) and The Restless Dead (2007) as well as author of the collection of ghost stories The Ghosts of Kerfol, Captivity stays close to the authors fascination with the supernatural and the classicly gothic form of literature. It entwines the story of the Fox sisters, through the eyes and the voice of Maggie, the middle of the three sisters, and fictional Clara Gill.. Historically, the Fox sisters were the leaders of what became known as the Spiritualist movement in the United States. The youngest two, Maggie (Margaret) and Kate, became local celebrities in 1848 when mysterious rappings were heard in their cabin in rural Hydesville, NY, said to be the rappings of the spirit of a man murdered there. Sent away to live with separate relatives, it was found that the rappings followed each of the sisters, and by 1850 they were holding seances and gaining notriety as mediums under the direction of their older sister Leah.
 
Naturally, though they attracted many followers and imitators, the Fox sisters also endured a lot of criticism and accusations of fraud, and one would expect in reading a book about them to see that addressed, but the truth or falsness of the claims made by the sisters is not what Captivity is about.
 
Captivity is about, well, captivity. The two main figures in the novel, Maggie Fox and Clara Gill are nothing if not captives. While Maggie and her sister Kate were the originators (or mediums, if you want to believe they were genuine) of the otherworldy communications, it was their sister Leah who grabbed the reigns of the 19th century equivalent of a PR machine and created a movement. Maggie as a child is captive to her elders, the town leaders who investigate them, the ghost hungry public, her sister’s machinations and ambitions for them, and, if she really was able to communicate with the dead, captive to her own talents. Later in life, the real Maggie Fox was also captive to alcoholism.
 
The story of Clara Gill, told in flashbacks and intertwined among Maggie’s story, is rich. As a female artist in mid 19th century London, she is engaged in drawing and illustrating animals for a book publication, uniquely poised for a woman at the edge of the expansive natural history movement, which had begun late in the 18th century and expanded with the Victorian British Empire, collecting new specimins of animals and plants to be recorded and named. Newly in love, Clara should have had the world at her feet, but she finds herself captive, to society, to her family, to fate, and ultimately to herself.
 
It is Clara’s self imposed captivity, her withdrawl from the world which is most heartfully explored in Noyes’ novel. Stronger sometimes than the things that claim us as captive in life, are the things that can bind us and keep us prisioner even after death.
Is it a ghost story? Maybe a little. Is a romance? Maybe a little. Maybe a little bit gothic in flavor. Definitely worth a read.

Margaretta (Maggie), Kate and Leah Fox