Possessed Victorians: Extra Spheres in Nineteenth-Century Mystical Writings, 1st Edition (e-Book) book cover

Possessed Victorians

Extra Spheres in Nineteenth-Century Mystical Writings, 1st Edition

By Sarah A. Willburn


182 pages

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Hardback: 9780754655404
pub: 2006-11-15
eBook (VitalSource) : 9781315246345
pub: 2017-05-15
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In her absorbing study of nineteenth-century mystical writings, Sarah Willburn formulates a new conception of individualism that offers a fresh look at Victorian subjectivity. Drawing upon extensive archival work in the British Library, Willburn analyzes séance accounts, novels about mediumship, and metaphysical treatises to make important connections between contemporary writings on mysticism and fictional works. Willburn presents the theories of compelling characters such as Newton Crosland and Lois Waisbrooker and provides exciting new readings of well-known texts by Charlotte Brontë, Eliot, Martineau, and Corelli. An understanding of the Victorian fascination with mysticism, Willburn argues, leads to a better appreciation of cultural constructions of the citizen in England and of the public sphere. She introduces two key concepts against the backdrop of popular mysticism: "possessed individualism," a model for Victorian individualism based on spiritual possession, and "extra spheres," which complicate the traditional binary opposition of public and private. Together, these formulations urge us to rethink our views of Victorian political economy and gender as they pertain to mystical and religious practices.


'This fascinating study opens up the meanings of the word "possession" in Victorian culture to account for phenomena as seemingly diverse as the subtle dynamics of Daniel Deronda and an ornery walking talking séance table named Mary Jane. Willburn makes convincing connections between Victorian mystical culture and the influential economic concept of possessive individualism, making this book an exciting contribution to the growing literature on the Victorians’ ongoing fascination with the supernatural.' Pamela Thurschwell, University College London, UK 'Highly recommended.’ Choice ’… lively and important study… Willburn provides a fascinating overview of the little-known genre of 'trance novels'… this monograph provides erudite and engaging analyses of a wide range of materials and is a major contribution to the burgeoning scholarship on relationships between mysticism and Victorian culture.’ Review of English Studies ’After an introduction that provides a substantial, useful overview of recent scholarship on spiritualism, Willburn offers a sustained reading of Eliot's Daniel Deronda before taking up spiritualist narratives, theories and practices, including - in a fascinating chapter - those associated with supposedly possessed articles of furniture, specifically tables.’ Brontë Studies

Table of Contents

Contents: List of figures; Acknowledgements; Introduction. Part One Possessed Individualism: Possessed individualism in George Eliot's Daniel Deronda. Part Two Extra Spheres: Worlds apart: invisible culture and extra spheres. Part Three Subjectivity Reconfigured: Tables with contents; Rethinking interiority through 19th-century trance novels. Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Sarah A. Willburn is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of English at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, USA.

About the Series

The Nineteenth Century Series

The Nineteenth Century Series

The Nineteenth Century Series aims to develop and promote new approaches and fresh directions in scholarship and criticism on nineteenth-century literature and culture. The series encourages work which erodes the traditional boundary between Romantic and Victorian studies and welcomes interdisciplinary approaches to the literary, religious, scientific and visual cultures of the period. While British literature and culture are the core subject matter of monographs and collections in the series,  the editors encourage proposals which explore the wider, international contexts of nineteenth-century literature – transatlantic, European and global.  Print culture, including studies in the newspaper and periodical press, book history, life writing and gender studies are particular strengths of this established series as are high quality single author studies.  The series also embraces research in the field of digital humanities. The editors invite proposals from both younger and established scholars in all areas of nineteenth-century literary studies. 

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LITERARY CRITICISM / Comparative Literature