- Night Journeys: The Power of Dreams in Transatlantic Quaker Culture
This is an intriguing book that can be given high marks for tackling an elusive and difficult subject. Dreams, of any kind, have long been subject to multiple interpretations, but religious dreams and visions are sometimes the most difficult to explain. Yet the author, in this ground-breaking work, thoroughly examines the place and significance of dreams among early modern Quakers. She has produced a thought-provoking and imaginative work on a very slippery subject. The interpretation of dreams is tricky, made all the more difficult by the very elusive nature of the very imaginings she is trying to grasp. Her study builds [End Page 56] on previous discussions of the exact nature of the “Inner Light”—one of the bedrock foundations of the Quaker faith—and how this direct communication with God shaped Quakerism and its relationships. Gerona makes a powerful case that what she calls “dreamwork” was central to the development of Quakerism in both the British Isles and North America. Dreamwork, according to Gerona, actually was used methodically by Friends as “maps” of the future for the defining of their own communities and as influences on the direction that they wished the British Empire to take. As Gerona writes—“Thus early American Quaker dreams acted as visual and psychical makers that helped this innovative group crisscross—and shape—a very real, though sometimes foreign, Atlantic world.”
This book meticulously researches and conscientiously covers the various aspects of the influence of dreamwork from the seventeenth century to the early part of the nineteenth. The first chapter examines a few representative dreams and puts Quaker dreaming into its historical perspective. Subsequent chapters examine the origins of Quaker dreamwork and the concept of “mapping” during the seventeenth century, the building of the discipline in the British colonies during the early eighteenth century, the Quaker awakening to the problems of empire during the middle years of the eighteenth century, the stress and separations during the American revolution, and the dreamwork of the Early Republic.
Overall this is a good book, but there are a few problems. When the author attempts to interpret some Quaker dreams as homoerotic (215–219) and others as xenophobic (230), she is not on solid ground and her conclusions are shaky. But although the author does appear to misunderstand some of the dreams and provide thin evidence in some cases, her investigations are generally persuasive and she is generally successful in her conclusions that the Quakers used dreams to promote their visions of what the British Empire should be, both among their own ranks and to the outside world. All in all, the book is creative and imaginative, as well as entertaining. It is a refreshing read, a bit quirky at times but still a valuable addition to the scholarship of the early modern Quaker transatlantic community. [End Page 57]