This essay addresses the socio-cultural potential of phreno-mesmerism in the mid-nineteenth century and how its good intentions were frustrated by its uncanny discourse. Supporters of phreno-mesmerisms social agency dreamed that the physiological make-up of future generations could be determined by engineering sexual partnerships. But the more earnestly the new hybrid science was advanced as a tool of social change, the more the discourse of phreno-magnetism proved unwieldy. In effect, the discourse represents a double-bind, intertwining sex and gender, essentialism and constructionism, science and the occult, materialism and Gothic. The article focuses of Elliotson‘s enthusiasm for uniting phrenology and mesmerism in his notorious Letter On Mesmeric Phrenology and Materialism (1843).
Mesmerism, Mesmeric Manuals and Du Maurier‘s Trilby
Most critical works on Trilby (1894) have suggested that Svengali has complete mesmeric power over Trilby. Using the example of Trilby, as well as examining the mesmeric manuals and hypnotic manuals published in the nineteenth century, this article will demonstrate that mesmerism is a far more dynamic process than has been recognised in the past, and that the mesmeric process does not consist simply of a powerful mesmerist and a powerless subject, but rather describes a merging and blurring of the identities and powers of both mesmeriser and mesmerised so that who is mesmerising who is never really clear.
Manliness and Mesmerism in Richard Marsh‘s The
Through an analysis of Richard Marsh‘s The Beetle (1897), this article explores a link
between the practice of mesmerism and Victorian insecurities about the state of
masculinity. It argues that The Beetle attempts– through the characterisation of mesmeric
power as a dangerous virile energy and suggestibility to trance as effeminate and
degenerate– to make a clear but highly unstable distinction between ideal and deviant
forms of masculinity. In the process, Marsh‘s novel illuminates a complex relationship
between the permeability of mind, body, and nation that paradoxically serves to both
uphold and undermine the virility of the British male subject.
The following considers Richard Marsh’s 1897 gothic novel The
Beetle in relation to fin-de-siècle anxieties,
specifically sexual deviancy, empire, and venereal disease. While the domestic
Contagious Diseases Acts had been revealed in the 1880s, continued high rates of
VD amongst British soldiers in particular continued the debate as to who was
responsible for spreading diseases such as syphilis both at home and abroad. At
a time of ‘colonial syphiliphobia’, to extend Showalter’s term, The
Beetle suggests the necessity of regulating venereal disease in the
Empire to protect Britain’s ‘racial superiority’ and conservatively warns
against the potential consequences of dabbling with the sexually ‘deviant’ and
This paper explores the occult relationship between modern psychoanalysis and the pre-Freudian psychoanalysis of James Hogg‘s 1824 Gothic novel, The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner. Haunted by the ghosts of Mesmerism and of Calvinisms rabidly contagious religious fervour, Hogg‘s novel explodes post-Lockean paradigms of the subject for a post-Romantic British culture on the eve of the Empire. Turning back to Scotland‘s turbulent political and religious history, the novel looks forward to the problems of Empire by turning Locke‘s sense-making and sensible subject into the subject of an unconscious ripe for ideological exploitation, a subject mesmerized by the process of making sense of himself.
This essay examines The Lair of the White Worms cultural logic, its mobilization of that dense network of specific historical references - to mesmerism, physiognomy, alienism, degeneration, and theories of race - which underlies so much of Bram Stoker‘s output. It is argued that Stokers last novel can serve as a kind of summa for Stoker‘s entire oeuvre, casting a retrospective eye over precisely those ethnological concerns that had animated his writings from beginning to end. For, in Stoker‘s imaginary the monstrous is always inscribed within a topography of race that his novels at once challenge and confirm by bringing pressure to bear on the whole scientific project of a general anthropology at its most vulnerable point: the distinction between the human and the near-human, between the species form and its exceptions.
The Lost Book Review of Norman
Macrae‘s Highland Second-Sight (1909)
Paul S. McAlduff and John Edgar Browning
Bram Stoker was no stranger during his lifetime to spiritualistic endeavors or esoteric
fancies. The proof of this claim lies unquestionably across his fictions, which are
cratered with Gothicisms from the supernatural and mesmerism to dark atmospherics and
ambiances, as well as, or especially, second sight, which is to say visions of the future
or the present seen from afar. This occultic power comprises the topic of a newly
discovered book review by Stoker reproduced within this article and entitled The Second
Sight. This book review is significant in a few crucial ways, most especially because it
is so far the only book review Stoker is known to have published, adding a new
bibliographical chapter to his already diverse writing career. Of equal import, however,
is the circumstance of his reviewing a work of esoterica like Norman Macrae‘s Highland
Second-Sight, making this discovery in many ways a valorization of the scholarly work of
Catherine Wynne and others who have treated of Stoker‘s predilection in his writings for
The dome of thought examines how phrenology and phrenologists were represented in British daily newspapers, popular magazines and serious journals from the opening of the nineteenth century to its conclusion, before tracing the residual influence of the pseudoscience across the twentieth century and, surprisingly, into the second decade of the twenty-first century. The book opens with a consideration of how phrenology was deployed to explain literary celebrity in the Victorian period with particular attention being directed to the interpretation of the skulls of William Shakespeare and Robert Burns. The book then continues by recalling the manner in which the doctrine of phrenology was introduced to British culture in the early nineteenth century, and the manner in which the Continental activities of Franz Joseph Gall and Johann Gasper Spurzheim were reported. The lecture tour of Britain and Ireland subsequently undertaken by Spurzheim is discussed, and the book reassess the controversy which surrounded his encounter with the Scottish medical establishment in 1816. Spurzheim’s influence upon George Combe, the Scottish lawyer who was the popular face of British phrenology for much of the century, is then considered, as is the interface of phrenological thought with mesmerism in the work of John Elliotson. The final chapter of the book surveys the declining years of speculative and theoretical phrenology and its transformation into a primarily commercial activity under the particular influence of the American Fowler brothers. The conclusion surveys phrenology in the twentieth century, and its resurgence in political satires directed against Donald Trump.
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.
Paul Potter, Trilby , Act 1,
ll. 380–96 1
If the Mesmeric Infirmary made any
substantial contribution to popular culture in its relatively short
existence, it was in the underwriting – for a time at least
– of a plausible connection between mesmerism and analgesia in
the British imagination. Paul Potter’s Trilby ( 1895 ), a dramatised