Review: J. B. Bullen, Rosalind White, and Lenore A. Beaky, eds, Pre-Raphaelites in the Spirit World: The Séance Diary of William Michael Rossetti, (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2022)


  • Julia Skelly


About a week before I sat down to read Pre-Raphaelites in the Spirit World, an edited version of William Michael Rossetti’s ‘séance diary’, I had a Zoom appointment with an Indigenous Two-Spirit tarot reader for an ancestral reading. The first thing to note is that, despite my Zoom working fine a couple of weeks earlier, when the Zoom call began, I couldn’t hear a word the tarot reader was saying. We tried again and again; nothing worked. Eventually, frustrated, I said that I had to bow out, and the reader called me on my cell phone and asked if I had been ‘blocked’ lately, turning technological difficulties into something metaphysical and, you’ll note, my ‘fault’. The person also said that the night before a ‘maternal figure holding a white lily’ had appeared to them, trying to communicate with me, then they asked if my mother had ‘passed’. When I said no, they quickly changed gears and said that sometimes living people appear in visions in order to communicate with other living people. I begin this review with a personal anecdote because William Michael Rossetti’s séance journal is full of these moments: for believers (such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning), certain words and names and images resonated, suggesting contact from the spirit world. For non-believers (such as Robert Browning, apparently), all spiritualists were scam artists preying on vulnerable people who missed their loved ones.