Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Making of a Mystic: New and Selected Letters of Evelyn Underhill

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

The Making of a Mystic: New and Selected Letters of Evelyn Underhill

Article excerpt

The Making of a Mystic: New and Selected Letters of Evelyn Underhill. Edited by Carol Poston. (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2010, Pp. 360. $75.00.)

Evelyn Underhill is the best-known Anglican authority on mysticism, but her remarkable gifts as a writer are evident in this collection of letters. The first was written in 1888, when Underhill was twelve; the last was mailed a week before her death in 1942 at the age of 65. Scholars have long been familiar with Charles Williams' 1943 edition of Underbill's letters. Carol Poston, professor emerita of English at Saint Xavier University in Chicago, claims that her edition gives nearly three hundred new letters as well as complete texts of letters newly edited from the original manuscripts. Poston provides very helpful introductions to each chronological group of letters, highlighting external events in Underbill's life not mentioned in the texts; her footnotes are equally useful and economical.

Compared to the Williams' volume, the unexpurgated Poston letters have an intimate feel and reveal a less loftily "spiritual" Evelyn Underhill. For example, letters to Underbill's eventual husband Hubert Stuart Moore frequently offer kisses from "your nurse" to "her boy." And cheery letters to Underbill's parents and friends evoke the vanished world of leisurely yachting holidays and shopping for tea gowns in Paris from which the independent scholar of mysticism and champion of the twentieth-century retreat revival unpredictably emerged. The letters reflect "The Making of a Mystic" as Underbill's study of religion comes to affect her own soul. Her first mystical experience is described in a remarkable passage from 1909 when she writes of her "astonished feelings of happiness and gradual realization that the things I have read about with slightly incredulous interest were happening, with almost awful actuality, in my own person" (148). …

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