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Book details:
Phoebe Hicks

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also by the author and artist:
The Dreaming Life of
Leonora de la Cruz

  the unfinished life of phoebe hicks

by Agnieszka Taborska

translated from the Polish by Ursula Phillips

collage artwork by Selena Kimball

The fictional psychic Phoebe Hicks owes her unexpected career as a spiritualist to a photograph taken of her through her bedroom window after having eaten spoiled clams. What comes out of her mouth is considered the first photographic record of ectoplasm, and word spreads that she is able to commune with the dead. As the prototype for the medium, she establishes the standard for how a séance should be conducted during the sessions held in her Providence, Rhode Island, home, where a growing number of curious participants witness materializations of a host of figures, such as Ivan the Terrible, Catherine the Great, the Nose, Hatshepsut, Elizabeth Bathory, etc. Spiritualism thus takes hold of the popular imagination and becomes all the rage over the course of the 19th century. Told as a compilation of episodes conjoined with Selena Kimball's haunting collages, The Unfinished Life of Phoebe Hicks is a feminist Surrealist exploration of the role of the medium in 19th-century America and the expectations, and constraints, that were placed on women.


Agnieszka Taborska, otherwise innocent, has, during her annual pilgrimage into “the murky back-streets of Providence,” shamelessly consorted with the spirits of such infamous locals as Poe, Lovecraft, and Hawkes, giving spiritual birth to the charmingly eerie nineteenth-century medium, Phoebe Hicks. Phoebe’s story, which, the author says, “seems to belong more to dream than reality,” is a delightful postmodernist mix of fiction and history, hovering delicately between parody and mystery. Taborska’s fictional character Leonora de la Cruz makes a guest appearance, Harry Houdini challenges Phoebe to a kind of duel, and Alain Resnais, we’re told, had intended to make Phoebe the heroine of his 20th-century film Providence, scared off perhaps by her “disturbing ambiguity.” Phoebe is by turns a genuine communicant with the spiritual world, a fraud, an artist, a feminist, a psychiatrist, a lunatic. She can also be, thanks to her ethereal deadpan humor, very funny.

— Robert Coover

Agnieszka Taborska and artist Selena Kimball’s fictional heroines are clairvoyant women whose internal visions are projected externally through art and are conditioned by the scientific contexts of their eras.

— New Literature from Europe

It turns out that spiritualism is not so far from surrealism as it might seem. The surrealists, using their imagination, tried to break the shackles of social order, abolish the binding rules, and get out of the roles imposed from above. This transgressive element is equally important in the case of spiritualist séances, as Taborska notes, such a séance could be for the medium "entering with impunity roles inaccessible to her in waking life."

— Sarah Nowicka, Art Papier

It is a story about women's powers, or the career paths available to women at that time. About the eroticism hidden behind Victorian morality. About our desire for the extraordinary.

— Kinga Dunin, Journal of Opinions

The spirit of surreal eeriness seems to coexist quite well with the ghosts that haunt our heads as well.

— Mark Zaleski, Biweekly.com


ISBN 9788088628019
125 pp., 14 x 20 cm
softcover with flaps
28 color collages
fiction : art : surrealism
RRP: £14 • US$20

March/April 2024

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