Shinn in her artist’s studio circa 1903. (Wikimedia Commons)

The Splendor of Florence Scovel Shinn

Why the inspirational author has touched readers for a century

Mitch Horowitz
8 min readNov 9, 2023

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What makes a “serious writer”? In the final book of metaphysical author Florence Scovel Shinn, The Secret Door to Success, venerable New Thought minister Emmet Fox (1886–1951) wrote in his 1940 foreword:

One secret of Shinn’s success was that she was always herself…colloquial, informal, friendly, and humorous. She never sought to be literary, conventional, or impressive. For this reason she appealed to thousands who would not have taken the spiritual message through more conservative and dignified forms, or have been willing to read…at least in the beginning…the standard metaphysical books.

Fox’s comments were as much tribute as eulogy: the illustrator and author Shinn died that year, 1940, at her home in New York City.

I quote from Fox’s elegy with a tinge of hesitancy. There is, I think, something of a backhanded compliment, or even veiled putdown, in his assessment that Shinn’s books are for seekers who might not have taken her teachings on mind-power metaphysics through more “dignified forms.”

A thought habit of today’s spiritual and intellectual culture, and many who seek their place in it, is suspicion of simple ideas and methods. In Shinn’s outlook — always proudly direct —visualizing, decreeing, and emoting are all means of causation: “Continually ‘making believe’ impresses the subconscious,” she wrote in her 1925 perennial The Game of Life and How to Play It.

I had this exchange in 2017 with filmmaker David Lynch, the whole of which appears in my book Uncertain Places:

Mitch: I think part of the problem with our spiritual and intellectual culture today is that if something works, we are immediately suspicious of it. We’re suspicious of simple things. Which I think is a problem.

David: Well, it is a big problem. The proof is in the pudding, in the tasting. So, it’s difficult to describe the beautiful experience, the bliss of transcending to people who haven’t experienced it. But it’s true that there is a treasury within each one of us human beings.

The director was specifically referencing Transcendental Meditation, but I see a more general…

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Mitch Horowitz

"Treats esoteric ideas & movements with an even-handed intellectual studiousness"-Washington Post | PEN Award-winning historian | Censored in China