“The Visionist” is a novel by Rachel Urquhart. The story takes place in Ashland, Mass. during October of 1842 in a small community of United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, or the Shakers. The book has three main characters: Polly Kimball, the main character, Sister Charity, the narrator, and Simon Pryor, the fire inspector.
Urquhart named her chapters after those characters, although there are some complementary characters in the book like Elder Sister Agnes, the head of ‘Shakers’ community or City of Hope, and May Kimball, Polly’s mother.
Polly had a tough life. Her father abused her mother and raped Polly and got her pregnant. One night when her father came home drunk, Polly, her mother and her brother decided to flee. Polly decided to see her father for the last time, but she dropped the oil lamps unintentionally and set their home on fire. Her father died in the fire and they fled to the nearest city.
Polly’s mother left her kids with Shakers in order to have a place to live and food to eat, but Polly realized if she kept the baby, the Shakers would excommunicate her. So, she tried to kill the baby.
“The Visionist” is the story of lonely people. Urquhart’s characters need love instead of faith for salvation. The truth of matter as the book described is “a spiritual mother, no matter how perfect, cannot hug her young charges to her or wipe away their tears with kisses.”
In the book when Shakers talk about other cities and communities they use the word “World” with capital “W” and of course they have an agenda for it. In the Shakers ideology “the World” is a devilish place and so the people that live in “the World” are considered bad people.
When Polly joined the Shakers’ dance in the first day something happened to Polly and she chanted “I’m in light.” Shakers took it as a sign of their promised one, and they called her “The Visionist.”
She knew she wasn’t the Visionist, but to stay with Shakers and keep her eyes on her little brother, she had to lie.
Sister Charity, a lonesome healer found herself in love with Polly.
One of the best parts of the book is the debate about love between Polly and Sister Charity. Polly tried to convince Sister Charity about the true meaning of love and what humans need most. Sister Charity had a strange
feeling about love because she “had never heard anyone in the City of Hope embrace a lover other than which exists sister for sister, or brother for brother.”
“Salvation was dangled before me, a stick waved teasingly in front of a dog, and I leapt for it,” Urquhart wrote.
This is the true vision, which all Shakers waited for and Sister Charity got because she embraced the love.