MORIAL THE MAHATMA. New York: Lovell, Gestefeld & Company, . Octavo, pp. [1-5] 6-270 [271-272: blank] [note: last leaf is a blank], original decorated tan cloth, front and spine panels stamped in dark brown. First edition. A complex and powerful study of black magic. Mabel Collins is remembered today mostly for her occult writings on theosophy, but she was, first and last, a professional and prolific author of popular fiction. She probably belongs in the third, rather than the second, tier of Victorian authors; but Wolff had four of her titles; and in Percy Russell's A GUIDE TO BRITISH AND AMERICAN NOVELS (1894), she is (honorably) mentioned in between Mary Cholmondely and Marie Corelli. The daughter of another forgotten Victorian author, Mortimer Collins (who himself wrote a supernatural novel, TRANSMIGRATION), Mabel was introduced to Spiritualism by her husband and soon became a medium. In 1885 she produced (via automatic writing, allegedly) LIGHT ON THE PATH, a treatise on theosophy which has been reprinted many times. She became more closely connected with Madame Blavatsky as that decade progressed, housing her for several months and eventually becoming editor of the important theosophical journal, LUCIFER. But tensions between her and the ever-difficult Blavatsky eventually produced a rupture, mutual recriminations, a lawsuit -- and the present novel. It is in some ways a transparent roman a clef attack on Theosophy. Collins' adept Morial corresponds to Blavatsky's Moria; her Kuthumi to Blavatsky's Koot Hoomi. Her Miss Riga, the sour old maid who claims occult knowledge and leadership over her ward, Daphne, is a more displaced version of Blavatsky herself, who was fat, Russian and colorful -- and an outright charlatan, as Collins came to see. In other ways, this novel proceeds independently of the specifically theosophical, exploring the dangers of occultism in general. (Collins came to also reject Spiritualism as opening a door to sometimes hostile elementals.) After introducing the magician Morial in his secluded Tibetan paradise, Collins presents the innocent English lovers Julian and Daphne. The former is drawn by visions and Morial's personal magnetism to make the arduous trek to Tibet to become the master's favored disciple. Daphne, back in London, faces different dangers as her guardian Miss Riga scents a way to take control of her fortune and find fulfillment in power to make up for the absence of love in her life. The novel takes the reader back and forth between these two narratives. Daphne's story drags a little and her innocence cloys. But Julian's has the ingredients of a first-rate adventure story, with exotic and convincing backgrounds, well-paced action and genuine suspense as he, and the reader, gradually discover the true nature of Morial. With the addition of occult imagery and themes, this becomes a title that belongs on a core list of fiction dealing with black magic. A scarce book. This is the correct first edition. An English edition came out, anonymously, in 1895 as THE MAHATMA A STORY OF MODERN THEOSOPHY. Blavatsky had died in May 1891 -- before either of these editions appeared. One can only imagine her displeasure had she read them. Collins wrote several other pieces of occult fiction (THE BLOSSOM AND THE FRUIT; THE IDYLL OF THE WHITE LOTUS; THE STAR SAPPHIRE; THE STORY OF SENSA; SUGGESTION). What sets her work apart from most occult fiction is that she was neither a naive enthusiast nor a cynical and superficial exploiter of the subject. Bleiler (1978), p 46. Reginald 03216. Faint damp stain to top edge of text block, mild bump to lower fore-edge corner tip, a nearly fine copy. (#148068).
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