“The Witch Hypnotizer” by Zena A. Maher (1892)

Such a promis­ing title.

Such a pro­found disappointment.

To put this blunt­ly, this is a Bib­li­cal tract, not a sto­ry. Each chap­ter is whol­ly or in part a moral­i­ty play in minia­ture, com­plete with such name­less stock char­ac­ters such as the man who drinks too much, the gam­bler, the unfaith­ful hus­band, the false wit­ness, the beset-upon Chi­na­man (yes, this work is reflec­tive of the peri­od and there­fore there are def­i­nite strains of racism and misog­y­ny with­in) and the “fall­en woman”. There is lit­tle dia­log and very few attempts at char­ac­ter descrip­tion or char­ac­ter­i­za­tion. Each sto­ry involves the Witch Hyp­no­tiz­er as she wan­ders through the town, encoun­ter­ing indi­vid­u­als with prob­lems or moral flaws. Then comes sev­er­al Bible vers­es, sin­gle vers­es care­ful­ly select­ed and dis­joint­ly assem­bled, then comes the demon­stra­tion of the ref­or­ma­tion of the par­tic­u­lar indi­vid­ual and the res­o­lu­tion of the exist­ing prob­lem or sit­u­a­tion. End of lesson.

The unnamed pro­tag­o­nist, the Witch Hyp­no­tiz­er, is equal­ly obscure and occlud­ed: no phys­i­cal descrip­tion of her is ever giv­en, but there is a descrip­tion of her power:

It was noth­ing tan­gi­ble, but an inde­scrib­able some­thing which gave her influ­ence over oth­er minds, to bend them to her will.

She is also com­plete­ly cer­tain of her mis­sion of the spir­i­tu­al and social ref­or­ma­tion of oth­ers accord­ing to the mores of the day, includ­ing the prop­er place of women (in the home and with­out the vote). By her cer­tain­ty, does not feel the need to seek informed con­sent. Fur­ther­more, there is nev­er any kind of demon­stra­tion that the Witch Hyp­no­tiz­er actu­al­ly per­forms any kind of act to induce the ref­or­ma­tion. (That, appar­ent­ly, is left up to the imag­i­na­tion of the reader.)


This work was found at Project Guten­berg, in a vari­ety of elec­tron­ic forms, here. There is very lit­tle to rec­om­mend it.

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