The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
The Brother of the Shadow (1886)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
The Brother of the Shadow was created by Rosa Praed. Rosa Caroline Murray Prior Campbell Praed (1851-1935) was a prolific (if not overly skilled) Australian-born English novelist who wrote in various genres, including romance, but is now remembered for her occult fantasies.
The Brother of the Shadow is about Antonia “Toni” Vascher. She is a delicate, demure, innocent young woman who suffers from crippling attacks of neuralgia. The only thing the doctors can do for her is prescribe morphine. But Toni is forced to constantly take the drug and is usually doped up, and the cumulative effects of the neuralgia and the morphine are slowly killing her. Her husband, Colonel Julian Vascher, writes to his old friend Doctor Lemuel Lloyd, who is both a physician and also a believer in scientific mysticism, mesmerism, magnetism, and all the other tenets of Theosophy (although that word is not used in The Brother of the Shadow). Lloyd, who has a small but healthy practice, agrees to see Toni, and she goes to Lloyd’s villa on the Riviera. At the villa Lloyd is assisted by Ananda, who the Vaschers knew in India. Ananda is a Hindu Brahmin and the pupil of the Great Occult Brotherhood, a group of “certain adepts of Inner Asia.”1 Ananda is a low-level initiate, but he is more philosophically advanced than the more powerful but less enlightened Lloyd, who Ananda’s masters have refused to contact. This bothers Lloyd, who lusts after the type of knowledge the Great Masters can reveal to him.
Toni’s arrival is a godsend to Lloyd, because she is a powerful latent psychic and can potentially help Lloyd delve into the mystic secrets denied to him. More than that, however, she is a beautiful woman, and Lloyd has been a celibate ascetic for four years. Predictably, as Lloyd begins his cure of Toni, he also begins falling in love with her. Lloyd struggles manfully to resist, since he knows it would be dishonorable to court her, and even worse to use his powers on her. When he can hide the truth from himself no longer, he resolves never to weaken around her. And he genuinely wants to heal her, and his treatments do help. But eventually Toni has a strange dream in which she sees a tall, dignified Egyptian beginning a mystic ceremony; she wakes up screaming before the ceremony ends. Ananda then informs Lloyd who the figure was that Toni saw: Murghab, “a black magician, a follower of the left hand path, a Brother of the Shadow....the Dugpas, as we call these black magicians in the East, aim only at internal enjoyment, sensuality, the things of the flesh....”2 Murghab appears to Lloyd and begins tempting him. Lloyd puts up a good fight but eventually he succumbs, and one day, when Ananda is out of town, Lloyd uses his powers to make Toni love him. Toni and Lloyd live together for a short while, but then Lloyd is informed that Colonel Vascher is on his way to visit. Murghab advises Lloyd to use a mystic ceremony to psychically kill the Colonel, but the Colonel’s astral spirit speaks to Toni during the ceremony, disrupting her trance and breaking Lloyd’s concentration. The Colonel arrives, Toni tells him she loves him, and Lloyd dies as a result of the disruption.
The Brother of the Shadow is an occult fantasy in the vein of Bulwer Lytton’s A Strange Story and Zanoni. The Brother of the Shadow labors under the shadow of Bulwer Lytton to a great extent, down to the invocation of the “scin-læca,” the monstrous “shining corpse” from A Strange Story. The Brother of the Shadow is shot through with Theosophist knowledge and learning, and is, even more than A Strange Story, written as a Theosophist fantasy (similar to Christian fantasy, but functioning as a vehicle, propaganda, and apologia for Theosophy rather than Christianity). But Praed wrote Shadow in 1886, two years before Madame Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy, published The Secret Doctrine, the landmark work of Theosophy. Praed was friends with Blavatsky and was heavily involved with Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society, and had actually written a Theosophical novel, Affinities, in 1885, the year before Shadow, so Praed’s work can be seen as pre-Blavatsky Theosophical occult fantasy, in the vein of Bulwer Lytton but modernized and in thrall to a different occult philosophy.
Although it was perhaps unusual for a woman writer like Rosa Praed to intervene in masculine genres like the bushranging novel and the Lost Race novel, it is by no means surprising that she also wrote a number of occult romances, since this was commonly regarded as a proper field for the “lady” novelist. Largely ignored by modern critics, Praed’s occult novels were originally very popular, selling in their thousands and even tens of thousands.3
Shadow was actually born of a rumor that Mrs. Praed was told:
In 1885 a rumor spread through the esotericist set that a Dugpa, a "black magician," was abroad in London. A certain chela, named Mohii--a Hindu follower of H.P.B. [Helena P. Blavatsky] living in London and much in demand for after-dinner lectures--explained at lunch with Mrs. Praed that this was true, and that he could be known by his red cap, which by occult law he had to wear. His goal was the satisfaction of sensuous desire, and could create by diabolical means passions contrary to the purity of heart required of adepts; they must therefore be in special devotion to the good.4
Shadow is one of the earliest English-language works--Mission to India from Europe, Mission to Europe from Asia preceded it by a few months—to feature what would become a reliable cliché in twentieth-century science fiction and occult fantasy: the hidden masters of Tibet/India/Central Asia, whose secret knowledge and superhuman psychic/mystic abilities are far beyond those of mortal men, especially white men. The hidden masters labor to bring enlightenment to the world as well as defeat the evil forces that plague mankind, especially the hidden masters’ corrupt but powerful opposites. This is a basic tenet of Theosophy, and via Theosophy this notion influenced a large number of genre writers, who put the cliché of the hidden masters (a.k.a. “The Nine Unknown” or “The White Lodge”) in their fiction. The idea of the hidden masters appeared in works as varied as Talbot Mundy’s JimGrim pulp adventure stories in the 1920s and in the David Lynch television miniseries Twin Peaks (1990-1991, 2017). The concept of the hidden Asian masters was particularly common in pulp and adventure fiction before the Second World War.
Shadow is actually a quick read. It has all the Theosophical mumbo-jumbo of Bulwer Lytton without his bombast, straining for effect, and other stylistic defects. But the novel is also lacking in Bulwer Lytton’s moments of genius, and is less inspired, if more evenly told, than A Strange Story or Zanoni. Shadow reads easily and agreeably. Praed’s characterization is effective, if shallow. While Praed does not create atmosphere as well as Bulwer Lytton, and does not frighten in the moments presumably meant to chill the reader, the mystical moments are at least interesting.
The treatment of Ananda is less racist than might have been expected. The Theosophists were generally more progressive in their portrayal of Indians than their Western contemporaries were, although in their fiction they were not without stereotypes of their own, usually stereotypes smacking of Orientalism. Ananda’s mystical “Hindoo” adept is little better than the Theosophist version of the Noble Savage stereotype, and like many of the more progressively-minded English-language works featuring Asians, Shadow portrays them as romanticized, superior Others rather than realistic human beings.
Praed’s best piece of writing in Shadow is her depiction of the temptation of Lloyd, which is convincing. The characterization of Lloyd is solid and credible, and Lloyd’s descent from genuinely well-meaning and honorable, to conflicted by desire, honor, and guilt, to consumed by power and bereft of any twinges of conscience, is relatively realistic, and believable.
The Brother of the Shadow is no classic, but is of note for its place in the history of the occult fantasy subgenre, as one of the disciples of Bulwer Lytton and one of the influential books on later occult fantasies with a Theosophical underpinning.
Print: Rosa Praed, The Brother of the Shadow. North Stratford, NH: Ayer Company Publishing, 1976.
1 Rosa Praed, The Brother of the Shadow (North Stratford, NH: Ayer Publishing Co., 1976), 72.
2 Praed, The Brother of the Shadow, 119.
3 Robert Dixon, Writing the Colonial Adventure: Race, Gender, and Nation in Anglo-Australian Popular Fiction, 1875-1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 101.
4 Robert S. Ellwood and Harry Partin, Religious and Spiritual Groups in Modern America, second edition (Abingdon: Routledge, 2016), 63.