First published in 1896, The Strange Transfiguration of Hannah Stubbs is one of a number of novels in which Florence Marryat uses Spiritualism both for comic effect and to make more serious arguments about gender politics. In this novel, the spirit of woman murdered by her jealous husband inhabits the body of his second wife and wreaks her revenge.
The Academy thought Marryat had deteriorated with this work, and referred to its “bewildering narrative”. The reviewer concluded: “If this volume is intended to commend spiritualism to unbelievers, we should say that it would rather confirm them in their scepticism.”
In the Saturday Review, H G Wells described it as an “absurd book,” which “far from transfiguring Spiritualism, as it is intended to do, holds it up as a highly dangerous and idiotic pastime.”
Professor Ricardo discovers that his landlady’s ungainly servant, Hannah Stubbs, is a powerful medium. He and his friend, Dr Steinberg, persuade her to participate in seances, where in a comatose state she manages to raise the spirit of Ricardo’s late wife, Leonora, who he had murdered in a jealous rage. Desperate to elicit Leonora’s forgiveness, Ricardo marries Hannah in order to have more control over her mediumistic powers.
After marriage, Hannah gradually become more assertive, making her husband’s life a misery. At the same time, Steinberg is finding himself strangely drawn to this previously coarse woman who is now sophisticated and glamorous. When he inherits a large fortune, Hannah confides that his feelings are reciprocated and then poisons Ricardo in order that she might marry her wealthier admirer, who believes his friend committed suicide.
Steinberg learns the terrible truth during a seance at which Ricardo’s tormented spirit appears. There is an angry confrontation between Steinberg and Hannah, and he discovers that his wife’s body has been possessed by the spirit of Leonora, who is wreaking her revenge on Ricardo. She pulls a knife on him and he pushes her down the stairs in self defence. The spirit of Leonora departs, and Hannah briefly returns to her old self, before dying.
For those with an infinite attention span, here is a very long synopsis.