here have been few lives as incredible as the life of Dr Anna Kingsford, both in the sense of being remarkable and also of being slightly inconceivable. A theosophist, self-proclaimed prophet, feminist, vegetarian, mother and woman of much personal charm, Kingsford is impossible to classify. This may explain her conspicuous absence in contemporary Victorian studies. As a vegetarian, she makes brief appearances in texts about vegetarianism. As a theosophist, she is delegated a paragraph or two in theosophical studies. Either way, further studies of Kingsford could tell us much about Victorian occultism and the place women carved for themselves within it.
Annie Bonus was born on 16 September 1846 in Essex, England to a middle class family. Her first work was Beatrice: a Tale of the Early Christians published when she was 13 years old. She continued a fairly independent and educated lifestyle, despite consistent ill health, marrying her cousin Algernon Godfrey Kingsford when she was 21 years of age, and soon after gave birth to a daughter. Influenced by her husband, Anna followed Catholicism seriously, reporting to have had visitations by Mary Magdalene. Also involved in women's rights, Anna was introduced to spiritualism through a fellow campaigner for the Married Women's Property Act. Alongside these years of spiritual change, Anna also briefly edited the progressive journal The Lady's Own Paper and became a vegetarian. In 1873 Anna began communication with a similarly open-minded individual by the name of Edward Maitland. Maitland was a novelist and spiritual intellectual who shared many of Kingsford's opinions on alternate interpretations of Christianity and liberal politics. Kingsford and Maitland would be virtually inseparable for the rest of the lives, and when Anna began experience mystic visions and dreams Edward became her de facto interpreter and transcriber.
Anna decided to take up a medical career, primarily to study vegetarianism and promote her beliefs in anti-vivisection; however an element of proving women capable of rational thought and complex skill was also present. Because women were not allowed to study medicine in England at the time, Anna was forced to travel back and forth between London and Paris to complete requirements, which over the years significantly threatened her already fragile health. She continued to receive visions and believed herself to be communicating with spirits or "genii" who revealed truths about the afterlife and the correct way for humans to live. A collection of her and Maitland's spiritual revelations was published in 1882 entitled The Perfect Way, or the Finding of Christ; it would be the only text of her mystical illuminations published during her lifetime. Complex and groundbreaking, the book explained the misinterpretation and misuse of biblical texts over centuries and the potential for Christianity to be less bound by tradition and the clergy. It garnered the attention of the newly formed British Theosophical Society and Kingsford was soon made president. However, controversy over her focus on Christian text, as opposed to Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as her conflict with Alfred Percy Sinnett lead to her split with the group and the formation of the Hermetic Society in 1884.
Anna's health worsened as her animal rights campaigning and medical studies became a greater burden. Anna passed away on February 22, 1888, with Maitland present. After her death Edward would commit the rest of his life to organizing and publishing her works, leading to the gargantuan biography Life of Anna Kingsford in 1896. The rest of her correspondence and notes were destroyed.
Alhough contemporary scholars of feminism or religion rarely mention the legacy of Kingsford, her influence appears in well-known occultist figures such as Aleister Crowley and the late nineteenth-century women's spirituality movement.
Bonus, A. Beatrice: A Tale of Early Christians. London: Joseph Masters and Son, 1863.
Kingsford, Anna and Edward Maitland. The Perfect Way or the Finding of Christ. Boston: Esoteric Publishing Company, 1972.
Kingsford, Anna (Bonus). Clothed With the Sun. Ed. Edward Maitland. New York: Frank F. Lovell & Company, 1889. (Posthumously published).
Kingsford, Anna. Dreams and Dream Stories. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing, 2004. (Posthumously published).
Kingsford, Anna, Md. Health, Beauty and the Toilet. London: Frederick Warne and Co., 1886 (Posthumously published).
Maitland, Edward. Anna Kingsford: Her Life, Letters, Diary and Work. 2 Vols. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing, 2003.
Dixon, Joy. Divine Feminine: Theosophy and Feminism in England. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2001.
Oppenheim, Janet. The Other World: Spiritualism and Psychical Research in England 1850-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Owen, Alex. The Darkened Room: Women, Power and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England. London: Virago Press, 1989.
Owen, Alex. The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
Last modified 6 August 2007