Who was Patience Worth?

   Credited with producing a large body of literary work through the mediumship of a St. Louis housewife, Mrs. John H. Curran, Pa­tience Worth was the alleged spirit of a 17th-century Englishwoman.
   In one of the most famous examples of automatism, or automatic writing, a phenomenon that peaked early in the 20th century, the reported abilities of Patience Worth seemed to far outstrip those of her agent, Mrs. Curran. Curran had left school at the age of 14 and had done very little reading afterward; her ignorance of history was huge, she had traveled very little and had apparently been exposed to no one of erudition either as a child or as an adult. Yet the novels that she "transcribed" beginning in 1913 dealt authentically with histori­cal details from many periods and were furthermore described by contemporary critics as being superior in style, characterization and plot. Among them were The Sorry Tale, set in Palestine at the time of Christ; Telka, set in medieval England; and Hope Trueblood, one of the most highly praised ("a novel of decided promise," declared one reviewer), which takes place in Victorian England, some 200 years after its putative author was killed in an Indian massacre after immigrating to America from a farm in Dorsetshire.
   The writings have been endlessly analyzed by literary scholars and linguists, yet no persuasive evidence has been found to pin down the true source of Patience Worth's works. Some theorists believe in a strict spiritualist interpretation—there was a Pa­tience Worth, and she was a gifted and prescient writer—while others suggest that Curran knew far more, and was far more skilled, than her conscious mind could ever acknowledge.