Bruce Wyse
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Entranced by death
Horace Smith’s Mesmerism
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Blending aspects of the religious novel with Gothic motifs, Horace Smith’s 1845 novel Mesmerism: A Mystery employs mesmerism to make its case for a radical transvaluation of death. Prematurely spiritualised by mesmeric treatment, the protagonist Jane Harvey attains a preternatural awareness of the liminal space between life and death, and, in the novel’s affirmative re-conception of the Death and the Maiden motif, she repeatedly encounters a mysterious phantom that proves to be the mildly uncanny yet enticing embodiment of death itself. The text evokes the ‘mistaken terror of death’ in order to dispel it and enthusiastically affirms both the Evangelical ‘good death’ and what Phillipe Ariès calls the ‘beautiful death’. However, in its disproportionate emphasis on death per se, and its polemical drive to reconceive death as ‘the universal friend’, the novel flirts with the heterodoxy that its personified Death is the principal redeemer of humankind.

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