MADAME BLAVATSKY: The Woman Behind the Myth by Marion Meade

MADAME BLAVATSKY: The Woman Behind the Myth

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The Russians have a word for it: skuchno (boring). For sheer, unadulterated, teeth-grinding tedium this long biography of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-1891) sets a very high standard. Whatever possessed Meade, who's a competent writer (with lives of Abelard and Eloise, Eleanor of Acquitaine, and Victoria Woodhull to her credit) and a sensible person (properly incredulous of H.P.B.'s spiritualist hokum), to waste her own and our time with this minute chronicle of the crankiest, silliest, blowziest saint on the modern calendar? Ironically, Blavatsky had both brains and a willful sort of charm. She traveled widely (all over Europe, India, the U.S., etc.) and attracted a number of notable people, including W. B. Yeats and Annie Besant. She led a busy existence, erotic at its outset (various ill-assorted marriages and affairs) and eccentric at its close (despite the birth of her illegitimate son Yuri she stoutly maintained her total virginity). She chain-smoked cigarettes (one of her unsympathetic hosts counted 200 a day), ate like a pig, and produced, at one time or another, practically every parapsychological phenomenon known to man--levitation, poltergeists, ""spirit photography,"" telepathy, clairvoyance, you name it. So, with all this, why is Meade's story so sleep-inducing? Mainly because H.P.B. was a fake, and while some of her fakeries have their amusing side (mysterious letters from the other world fluttering down to astonished recipients--through a hole in the ceiling), after a while they sorely test the reader's patience. All these shenanigans might be tolerable if Blavatsky had any real message, but her supposed synthesis of Hinduism, Buddhism, and ""Occultism"" is a joke, a crazy quilt of borrowed, stolen, or misunderstood material. The life of H.P.B. was a colorful footnote to Victorian history, but a 500-page footnote is a monstrosity.

Pub Date: Sept. 25th, 1980
Publisher: Putnam