School of Historical and Philosophical Studies - Theses

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    An unreasonable profession : spiritualism and mediumship between the wars in Britain
    Hazelgrove, Jennifer P ( 1996)
    In the latter half of the nineteenth century, Spiritualist claims that the dead survive in another world and communicate with the living became a subject of heated debate within English society. Originating in America in the eighteen-forties, Spiritualism found ready converts in England. By 1870, many periodicals were devoted to chronicling the activities of believers, while newspaper articles, church sermons and scientific reports issued a stream of diverse interpretations to a fascinated audience. Spiritualism has become a subject of lively historical interest in recent times, but most historians assume that it was a Victorian and Edwardian phenomenon, with little relevance in post World War I Britain. I began this study with similar assumptions, but as my research progressed, it became clear that the number of people who identified as Spiritualists grew in the interwar years and that Spiritualism was as controversial during this period as in the previous century. In sketching its passage and growth between the wars, I emphasise Spiritualism's ability to absorb and organise both modem and ancient tropes. As the movement continued to gain in popularity the debate over its meaning and possibilities for humankind grew apace. At the centre of these controversies stood the figure of the medium. The mediumistic persona was constructed inside and outside the Spiritualist movement as feminine. This project engages with issues of gender, subjectivity and power in relation to the development of the mediumistic identity. In doing so I stress the profound ambiguity of that identity. The medium, as represented through diverse narratives, appeared as both subject and object, the source of truth and lies, and the mother of life and death. It was always unclear whether she was psychically gifted or demented, or whether she intended to harm or heal. Confronted with opposing narratives, a coherent sense of "self' was not easily achieved by a medium. Ultimately, this study attempts to show that the mediumistic "self' was never a stable result of private conviction, but a deeply unstable and continually shifting production that developed within particular historical circumstances