N.p.: Archeon Press, 2015. 287 pp., paper, $18.86.
The early leaders of the Theosophical Society continue to inspire literature of all kinds. One of the latest additions is Elizabeth Spring’s Sweet Synchronicity. The title refers to a deep connection the author has felt to Annie Besant, partly because they were born exactly 100 years apart (Besant: October 1, 1847; Spring, October 1, 1947). This connection, in the author’s view, has been reinforced by many coincidences, or synchronicities, over the years.
The book interweaves a biography of Besant loosely interwoven with the author’s own personal experiences. Throughout it Spring emphasizes her link to Besant. She even suggests that she might be Besant’s reincarnation: “Could I have been her mother? Could I have been her? . . . I’m not sure there is a knowable answer to these questions; I think much is meant to remain a mystery.”
If Elizabeth Spring is indeed the reincarnation of Annie Besant, her memory has suffered severe damage in the passage between worlds, because the book is full of errors and distortions. It is far from clear how many of these were deliberate, even though Spring says at the outset, “although the basis of the story is true as told, there are some changes that modify the story to put it in a literary form. There are also disagreements over the nature of some of the people and events as noted in conflicting histories.”
In fact Sweet Synchronicity goes far past mere literary modifications. Sometimes the mistakes are small. While Spring makes much of an interview she had in 1988 with Rosalind Rajagopal, the longtime lover of J. Krishnamurti, she is unable even to decide on the spelling of her name: it appears repeatedly as both “Rosalind” and “Roselind.”
Other errors are both more substantial and more comical. One scene depicts a reunion between Besant and her long-estranged daughter Mabel, here described as a “young woman.” But the scene is set in 1929, and Mabel Besant was born in 1870, so she would have been fifty-nine on the supposed date of this reconciliation.
Probably the most amusing distortion appears in Spring’s account of Krishnamurti’s climactic renunciation of his role as the World Teacher, which also occurred in 1929. When he and Besant arrive at the event at which he is supposed to take on the mantle, they are “greeted immediately by Colonel Olcott.” But it would have been difficult for Henry Steel Olcott to attend this gathering, because at that point he had been dead for twenty-two years.
A more serious problem comes with Spring’s portrayal of the relations between C.W. Leadbeater and Krishnamurti. At one point Besant catches Leadbeater in an intimate moment with Krishnamurti. Outraged, she sends Leadbeater away.
In all probability nothing of this sort ever happened. It is reasonably certain that Leadbeater never approached Krishnamurti in this way: years later Krishnamurti himself denied that he had. Even in Gregory Tillett’s book The Elder Brother: A Biography of Charles Webster Leadbeater — which many Theosophists regard as hostile to its subject — the author concedes that Leadbeater “had no sexual relations with Krishnamurti.” In any event, Besant did not break with Leadbeater for this or any other reason. She was one of his staunchest defenders throughout later years.
Much of Sweet Synchronicity, particularly the second half, appears to be based on a screenplay by Spring that won a 1988 contest, complete with a $5000 prize. Her account of this event is peculiar. After winning, she is approached by a Hollywood producer who wants to option the script. But it turns out that this producer, with true Hollywood sensationalism, wants to include the story of Krishnamurti’s affair with Rosalind Rajagopal in the film. The indignant Spring refuses and tears up the check.
So on the one hand, we have Spring high-mindedly refusing to put into her screenplay something that did happen — the affair between Krishnmurti and Rosalind — but on the other hand creating a much more scurrilous scene between Leadbeater and Krishmamurti that did not happen. This is a strange sort of integrity.
In short, Sweet Synchronicity is a book that knowledgeable Theosophists are likely to find either hilarious or infuriating. While it does loosely replicate the events of Besant’s life, it does so with so many distortions that it cannot be called a biography in any meaningful sense. It could be most charitably described as an imaginative engagement with the life of Besant, although it is not an intelligent or responsible engagement.
Some are likely to see this book as an embarrassment to Theosophy. That may or may not be the case, but it certainly ought to be an embarrassment to the author.