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Madame d’Esperance, a Victorian spiritualist who was caught in the act of a fraud

There’s been much discussion about people communicating with ghosts or recalling the spirits of the dearly departed. However, each time this subject comes up, there is one persistent question, whether the person is fraudulent. Such questions have not excluded one of the most popular spiritualists of the 19th century, a time when this occupation was perhaps at its peak.

Elizabeth Hope, or maybe better known as Madam d’Esperance, was indeed a person who carefully built her life-long career as a spiritualist and medium. Her encounter with the esoterics began in her childhood, as she explains in two volumes that she produced on the matter of spirituality over the course of her life.

When in London, where she grew up, she claimed she was capable of seeing “shadow people,” individuals that nobody else was able noticing. Such statements came at the cost of Elizabeth’s freedom, as she ended up in a mental institution. However, that only made things worse. She was still a child at risk, having no father at home to look after the situation, and her mother would criticize and punish her for sharing any accounts of her “shadow people.”

Mme. d’Esperance
Mme. d’Esperance

“I shivered with fear, and prayed almost frantically that I might be kept from going mad,” she would note in her writing about the moment when a physician informed her that in the asylums there were other children submitted for the same reasons.

Elizabeth continued having these other-worldly experiences throughout her life. When she was 14 years old, she had a nervous breakdown. After Elizabeth had recovered and returned to school, things calmed for a while, and there were no more strange encounters. At least until one morning, when she woke up to see that an essay she had for homework had already been produced over the night as she has been sleeping. The handwriting matched hers.

As this episode of Elizabeth’s life goes, the writing was done so well that nobody at school believed this was hers. An investigation even followed that involved the rector, who eventually accepted the piece to be her work. Was it again the “shadow people” or perhaps a made up story by Elizabeth, invented later in life?

After finishing school, Hope married at the age of 19 and moved to Newcastle, which is when the “shadow people” started appearing again. These were the 1870s, about the time she also began to mingle with other spiritualists and people with similar and allegedly unexplainable experiences in life. She started to practice with them activities such as moving tables and enhancing her skills as a clairvoyant.

Covered in a net, as a control in an experiment
Covered in a net, as a control in an experiment

The more time she spent with her new friends, the less nervous she was about the shadows which had been haunting her since childhood. Elizabeth progressed in the field, cracking the “secrets” of automatic writing.

Supposedly, she managed to obtain one such writing from an American who had studied at Yale and who was involved in the Civil War but sadly drowned at the age of 22. That person was Walter Tracy, and in a later encounter in life, Elizabeth supposedly indeed met a person in real life that matched Tracy from the automatic writing.

Elizabeth was exposed by the investigator of psychic phenomena, Hereward Carrington.
Elizabeth was exposed by the investigator of psychic phenomena, Hereward Carrington.

Over the years, she became popular as a medium, capable of materializing flowers in her séances as well as recalling the spirits. Writing about the experience of her first materialization, she noted: “It seemed that I could feel fine threads being drawn out of the pores of my skin.”

Traveling across different countries around Europe, Elizabeth, now Madame D’Esperance, became more and more famous for her medium materializations, and she would convince many intellectuals on her way that the ectoplasm she produced in the séances was real. She was subjected to close inspection by investigators and different psychic researchers. And one of them stained her career perhaps for life.
In 1880, during one of her séances, one of the sitters in the room managed to grab the “apparition” called Yohlande. As the incident goes, the investigator revealed that it was not a ghostly thing at all, but none other than Madam D’Esperance herself. The story gets a mention also in a book called The Psychic Mafia, authored by the “Prince of the Spiritualists,” M. Lamar Keene.

Mme. d’Esperance in 1890.
Mme. d’Esperance in 1890.

Keene explains that despite Madam D’Esperance being virtually exposed as a fraud and embarrassed in front of the audience, she worked so hard that no similar incident happened to her, at least for the next 13 years.

Read another story from us: Séance shock queen: Spiritualist Eva Carrière and the era of ectoplasm

In 1893, she would reportedly de-materialize only the part below the ribs of her body, while the remainder of the body remained in the room with the séance attendees. That also caused controversy. Psychic researcher Alexander Aksakof, who carefully observed the entire session, would validate Madam D’Esperance in his publication A Case of Partial De-materialization. He states that her capabilities were genuine.

Madame D’Esperance performed her last mediumship séance a month before she passed away in 1919, in Copenhagen.

Stefan Andrews

Stefan is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to The Vintage News. He is a graduate in Literature. He also runs a blog – This City Knows.