Imperial Fantasies for a Post-Colonial World

In an age of Imperial confidence, the social rhetoric of Victorian Britain frequently manifested a perceptible unease when considering cultural problems within the home nation. The imagery of ‘darkest England’, dependant as it was upon a powerful colonialist discourse, authorised and transmitted a register of language whereby an internal Other might be configured as uncivilised, and thus capable of being subject to the explorer and the missionary. Much, of course, has already been written upon the Gothic possibilities of this phenomena which characterised an Imperial age which allegedly declined with the nineteenth century. No similar consideration, however, has yet been made of its continuation into the twentieth century, a progressively post-colonial era in which the Imperial (or Imperialised) Other, in consequence, functions differently. This article considers two Gothic short stories, one in a reprinted Edwardian collection, the other a component of an original collection, both of which were issued in volume form in the late 1940s. The two narratives examine classic ‘cultures-within-cultures’, pockets of resistance within the fabric of the Imperial nation, though in a cultural context radically different from their Victorian predecessors. Algernon Blackwood‘s ‘Ancient Sorceries’ (1908), published in the 1947 reprint of his John Silence, and L.T.C. Rolt‘s ‘Cwm Garon’ published in Sleep No More (1948) share a preoccupation with the casual, localised, travelling which has replaced Imperial adventure, and with the decline of identifiable Christian institutions and landmarks themselves the products of earlier missionary activity in a familiar, though threatening, European landscape. In both short stories a form of devil worship is enacted before the eyes of the traveller, and in a landscape which fascinates and somehow holds him. In ‘Ancient Sorceries’, where the Devil does attend the bacchanal, the protagonist is almost seduced into willing participation but, on evading the sexual lure of the sabbat, vows never to return. Rolt, writing after the recent horrors of the Second World War, discards the presiding Devil in favour of a mortal substitute, but still leaves open the possibility that, in Kilvert‘s words, ‘an angel satyr walks these hills’. Neither welcomed nor seduced by the satanic community, Rolts protagonist finds himself fascinated by the land, and thus drawn into unwilling participation. In colonial terms, these two narratives explore the frequently rehearsed dangers of ‘going native’ that lie at the core of, among other works, Kipling‘s ‘The Mark of the Beast’, Rider Haggard‘s She and Conrad‘s Heart of Darkness. A subject people is identified, but their strength either supernatural or merely cultural, the ability to preserve a distinctive and resistant way of life tests the limits of the perceiving power. These are, in a sense, Imperial fantasies for a post-colonial world, a reflexing of colonised culture back in upon the formerly colonising nation.

Gothic Studies
Colonising Europe in Bram Stoker‘s The Lady of the Shroud

Postcolonial criticism is preoccupied for the most part with the implications and the cultural consequences of European interference in a vaguely delineated territory which could best be termed `the East‘. This statement, which might justifiably be regarded as being simplistic, provocative or even mischievous, must however be acknowledged as having some currency as a criticism of an occluded though still discernible impasse within an otherwise vibrant and progressive critical discourse. The postcolonial debate is, to borrow a phrase from Gerry Smyth, both characterised and inhibited by a `violent, dualistic logic‘ which perpetuates an ancient, exclusive dichotomy between the West and its singular Other. In practical terms, this enforces a critical discourse which opposes the cultural and textual power of the West through the textuality of Africa, Asia and the Far East rather than and at the expense of the equally colonised terrains of the Americas and Australasia. This is not to say that critical writings on these latter theatres of Empire do not exist, but rather to suggest that they are somehow less valued in a critical discourse which at times appears,to be confused by the potentially more complex diametrics implied in the existence of a North and a South.

Gothic Studies
Spirituality, Secularity and the Vampire

Gothic Studies
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Hypnotism and the Victorian Popular Imagination

This book explores how the nineteenth-century popular mind envisaged, elided and expressed both magnetism and hypnotism. It supplements and addresses the script of Mesmerized through access to a considerably more dense body of detail derived from the most widely disseminated publications in the British metropolitan and provincial press. The book contends that popular accounts of magnetic and hypnotic practice constitute a comparable form of evidence to those derived from clinical publications. It supplements mesmerism studies by conveying the widely disseminated cultural archive of images, reputations and fears through which the reading public may have approached the mesmeric fictions of its day. In emphasising the pervasive nature of a popular press, the book acknowledges the predispositions and prejudgements that may be embodied in a popular audience. The book begins with a discussion on how British readers perceived the work of Mesmer, his followers and his imitators on the Continent of Europe in the first three decades of the nineteenth century. It charts the transition of mesmerism from its initial theatres of the salon and the drawing room into the regular hospital system. The book also presents a detailed reading of the Doctor's involvement with the London Mesmeric Infirmary, a well-funded institution patronised by the nobility which faded quietly into obscurity around 1870. Finally, it briefly charts the obscure final years of British mesmerism. The book is a methodological pointer as to how the other pseudosciences of the Victorian period could best be revealed in all their richness and variety.

Guilt, regret and suicide in three ghost stories by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

In recent years, J. Sheridan Le Fanu's ghost-story collection In a Glass Darkly (1871) has been interpreted through its Gothic, medical and theological contexts. Yet the focus of these disparate literary and cultural discourses at the moment of death and – more pointedly – in the enactment of self-annihilation has never been explored. The first three narratives in the collection, ‘Green Tea’, ‘The Familiar’ and ‘Mr Justice Harbottle’, depict troubled, indeed persecuted, individuals – a diffident clergyman, a retired naval officer, a notorious and corrupt hanging judge – whose lives end prematurely following a personal contemplation of past actions known to themselves, but not to their contemporaries. This chapter will consider the deteriorating mental states of the Reverend Jennings and Captain Barton, the respective protagonists of ‘Green Tea’ and ‘The Familiar’, and the retrospective account which charts the final days of the unfortunate Mr Justice Harbottle. All three stories amply illustrate the complex relationship between introspection and self-destruction in the persecutory tradition of Gothic fiction.

in Suicide and the Gothic
Revisioning the family in Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls

In Chapter 10, William Hughes considers the representation of an alternative grouping – not based upon genitally determined reproduction or legalistic dynasties, simultaneously vampiric and homosexual – in Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls (1992). Lost Souls generally, and this vampiric alternative to mortal reproductive culture in particular, critiques two outwardly conventional and yet utterly deviant types of the American family – the incestuous, Christian one-parent family of the vampire-obsessed teenager; and the bourgeois, liberal, new-age-inflected two-parent adoptive family. The alternative to these families is the vampire family. In a sense, the novel embodies familial models which seemingly emblematize social structures that reflect a repressive past, a liberal present and a speculative and truly liberated future. The twenty-first-century significance of this novel is, arguably, its revision of both the failed heterosexual families and the faulted homosexual families of the twentieth century.

in Gothic kinship
Vampires and gay men in Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls

In the Gothic of the later twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, the male vampire has progressively become associated both with the physicality of homosexual practices and with the expression of a specifically gay identity. One of the most striking commentaries may be found in Poppy Z. Brite's Lost Souls, a novel short-listed for the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Men's Science Fiction/Fantasy. The gay vampire lifestyle is rarely scripted with the comforting closures and concluding contentments that characteristically distinguish the domestic novel. The tension between the ability to enact desire and the corresponding ability to express or own to that desire is thus imbricated within the sexual plots of modern gay vampire fiction. Lost Souls represents the culmination of gay vampire fiction, in its twentieth-century incarnation at least. The gay vampire exists, even prospers, within the heterosexual human world, but is ultimately not committed to it.

in Queering the Gothic
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Animal magnetism – a farce?

The obscure nature of British magnetism has shaped the manner in which historians of devil's hypnotism have regarded the relationship between the last two decades of the eighteenth century and the mid-nineteenth-century heyday of British magnetic practice. An eighteenth-century precursor to the many medical disciplines that were laying competing claims to the increasingly respectable title of hypnotism, the theoretical dogma of animal magnetism was controversial even at the time of the play's conception. Animal magnetism, or mesmerism as it was often called, was arguably an unavoidable linguistic correlative of any form of later trance-based curative, anaesthetic or diagnostic practice, whatever its formal appellation. This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book is a study of how the nineteenth-century popular mind envisaged, elided and expressed both magnetism and hypnotism.

in That devil's trick
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In twentieth-century histories of devil's hypnotism, Franz Anton Mesmer is more often deployed in the manner of a rhetorical device than advanced in the guise of a historical figure. Hypnotism, even in the mid-nineteenth century, could still be conflated with magnetism in a way that is inconceivable in the twenty-first century. Mesmerism, as practised by Mesmer and his immediate disciples, and Perkinism as undertaken by all those who purchased the authentic tractors, shared a common commitment to medical technology. Reputedly the first indigenous practitioner of magnetism in the British Isles, John Bonnoit de Mainaduc, is usually dismissed in modern histories of hypnotism by way of a page or two of biographical description. Derek Forrest advances the tantalising suggestion that Mainaduc's vision of magnetism was shaped not by his sometime teacher Charles d'Eslon but by another of Mesmer's immediate disciples, Armand-Marie-Jacques de Chastenet, the Marquis de Puysegur.

in That devil's trick
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Baron Dupotet, though a Frenchman, is denominated 'the English Pope of animal magnetism' in The Athenaeum review, and the writer takes pains to exemplify the 'imputed facts' of mesmerism through reference to his printed words. The verbal ramblings of Dupotet's entranced subjects, however, allude rather to Marquis de Puysegur's demonstrations of magnetic sleep and that condition's associations with clairvoyance and alternative personality. Modern histories of hypnotism tend to open the narrative of Dr John Elliotson's protracted encounter with the O'Key sisters by way of an anonymous account published in the pages of The Lancet. The Times' article is arguably significant for its dissemination among a non-clinical audience of the nature of the experiments by which Thomas Wakley disproved Elliotson's claims regarding the magnetic susceptibility of the O'Key sisters.

in That devil's trick