H.P.B.: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Helena Blavatsky, . 3rd ed.

H.P.B.: The Extraordinary Life and Influence of Madame Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, the Founder of the Modem Theosophical Movement

By Sylvia Cranston and Carey Williams
Santa Barbara, CA: Path Publishing House, 1998. Paperback, xxiv + 660 pages.

It is a pleasure to welcome back into print this third and revised edition of the best biography of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky ever written. This new edition corrects errors, which are inescapable in a book of this length and complexity, and adds some new material. It includes notably one appendix with Vernon Harrison's opinion about the 1885 Hodgson Report to the Society for Psychical Research concerning the authorship of the Mahatma Letters and another listing contemporary editions of Blavatsky's writings and selected additional resources.

This book is a sympathetic biography, which takes at face value certain of HPB's statements about herself, rather than a critical one that impartially evaluates the often conflicting reports of her life that have been made by herself, her followers, and her critics. It is, however, a carefully documented and reliable work.

As such, it is a welcome antidote to the journalistic exposes and psychologizing biographies of HPB that are too often mistaken for scholarship. It is a relief to have a serious and level-headed alternative to the sensationalized and speculative treatments that have too often been the old lady's fare. An especially useful feature of the book is part 7 (pages 421-554), examining the influence of HPB on modern thought and the parallel developments that mushroomed in the century following her death. Few either outside or inside her Society realize what a force HPB was on twentieth century thought, as revealed in these pages. Ultimately what is important is not her biography, with its mysteries and marvels, but the powerful effect she had on the world.

One of her teachers wrote of Blavatsky: "But, imperfect as may be our visible agent- and often most unsatisfactory and imperfect she is-yet she is the best available at present." That is a realistic but also an appreciative and affectionate assessment of HPB. It is also applicable to this biography-and is no small praise of either person or book.


May/June 2000