Confessions of Madame Psyche: Memoirs and Letters of Mei-li Murrow : a Novel

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Feminist Press at CUNY, 1986 - Fiction - 393 pages
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1987 American Book Award Winner A A A This ambitious and enchanting novel is both modern-day epic and a work of great emotional and spiritual death. Bold in its historical scope, rich in colorful settings, and eminently readable, Confessions of Madame Psyche also reaches inward, toward quieter truths. A A A The novel is narrated by Mei0li Murrow, born in San Francisco in 1895, the illegitimate daughter of a charismatic confidence man and the Chinese prostitute he has "rescued" from the streets. After her mother's early death, Mei-li is left to care of her mercenary half-sister Erika. When the young Mei-li, by pure coincidence, predicts the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, Erika contructs her identity as "Madame Psyche"-exploiting Mei'li's exoticism and her clients' yearnings for contact with the dead in a series of ingeniously orchestrated seances that win her renown as a medium in California and then in the death-soaked Europe of the First World War. A A A Ironically, it is when she manages to finally reject the popular "spirituality" that has made her famous that Mei-li experiences a truer spiritual vision: One day, while walking on the beach, she has a revelation of her connection to all of life-"an experience of hidden reality which I have never doubted...and which left me permanently changed by what I then knew and know still and will always know." A A A Mei-li's subsequent journey leads her through the aspirations and disappointments of a utopian commune in the Santa Cruz Mountains in the 1920s; to the poverty of migrant work camps in the Depression-era Salinas Valley; and to the courage of the first strikes on San Jose's cannery row. Finally, when the relentless Erika cheats her out of an inheritance by having her committed to the Napa State Hospital, Mee-li finds her greatest wisdom and peace among the outcasts of the asylum-and there writes her "confessions." A A A Mei'li's story is ensconed in the rich history of Northern California in the first half of the twentieth century, and peopled by comrades of many classes and cultures and lovers both male and female; but her central odyssey remains one of inner discovery. In Confessions of Madame Psyche, Dorothy Bryant has created a character who is so honest in her search for truth, growth, and spiritual understanding that this quest becomes inherent to her survival.

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About the author (1986)

Dorothy Bryant is a native San Franciscan, the daughter of immigrants from northern Italy. She attended public schools in the Mission District, then San Francisco State University, completing a BA in music (1950) and an MA in creative writing (1964). From 1953 to 1976 she taught music and English in Bay Area high schools and colleges, spending the most time at Contra Costa College, after moving to Berkeley in 1964. She began writing fiction and articles in 1960.

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