Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Blavatsky, [Madame] H P

(1831-1891) Russian-born founder (with others) of the Theosophical Society (> Theosophy) in 1875 in the USA, and author of texts designed to promulgate the new occult faith. If the diffuse Spiritualism so popular at this time can be seen to have its fictional analogue (and explication) in various forms of Supernatural Fiction, then the Lifestyle Fantasy of Theosophy can be seen as receiving its proper fictional due (and advocacy) in Fantasy itself; and HPB's two main philosophical works – Isis Unveiled (1877 2 vols) and The Secret Doctrine (1888 2 vols) – can arguably be seen as providing much raw material for creators of fantasy worlds from the time of William Morris onwards. Key to Theosophy (1889) is less important; her Collected Works (omni 1933-1936 3 vols) was ed A Trevor Barker. In HPB's hands, Theosophy supplies models for the secret history of the world; for Secret Masters; for a Pariah Elite; for an exceedingly varied cast of extras ontologically bound (like creatures of fantasy) to fulfil their preordained role in a great drama (> Theodicy); for a sense that the history of the Universe is a Story that each of us, wittingly or unwittingly, helps to tell; for visions of Time Abyss, in which vast epochs dominated by Lemuria or Atlantis are mere episodes in the long story, which spirals upwards in great Cycles; for a geography of the world featuring Polders inhabited by the elect, a geography that supports the abiding sense that there are places – which one cannot quite call Secondary Worlds – safely elsewhere from the mundane world; and for a yearning sense that the drama of cosmology leads in the end to Eucatastrophe. As far as writers of fiction are concerned, she had a remarkably useful imagination. The entry on Theosophy expands upon these points.

HPB herself was a most extraordinary person, and might almost have served as a model for the Temporal Adventuress as created by Michael Moorcock. She left her husband, Nikifor Blavatsky, Vice-Governor of the province of Erivan in the Ukraine, at the age of 18; arrived in Constantinople soon after; led an adventurous life from that point – there are hints that she was once a snake-charmer in Cairo – until 1873, when she landed in the USA, a stocky, sultry chain-smoker much addicted to slapstick, and certainly very familiar with books like Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Zanoni (1842), itself an omnium gatherum of occult doctrines and influences, mainly from Eliphas Lévi (1810-1875); Zanoni himself is a Secret Master nonpareil. After the founding of the Theosophical Society, HPB took her entourage to India in 1879, where the full-blown Theosophy of her final book was evolved. She returned to Europe in 1884, where she faced down scandalous revelations about the authenticity of her mystical powers; met William Butler Yeats, who became a Theosophist, and Aleister Crowley; and died in time to avoid further embarrassment. She is as much a figure of the Gaslight Romance as any fictional character. Her own fiction, most of which was assembled as Nightmare Tales (coll 1892), is unimportant. Later fiction in which she appears in her own right includes Mark Frost's The List of Seven (1993). [JC]

further reading: Madame Blavatsky's Baboon: Theosophy and the Emergence of the Western Guru (1993) by Peter Washington.

[Madame] Helena Petrovna Blavatsky

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This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.