Victorian Women and the Theatre of Trance

Mediums, Spiritualists and Mesmerists in Performance


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About the Book

Spiritualists in the nineteenth century spoke of the “Borderland,” a shadowy threshold where the living communed with the dead, and where those in the material realm could receive comfort or advice from another world. The skilled performances of mostly female actors and performers made the “Borderland” a theatre, of sorts, in which dramas of revelation and recognition were produced in the forms of séances, trances, and spiritualist lectures.
This book examines some of the most fascinating American and British actresses of the Victorian era, whose performances fairly mesmerized their audiences of amused skeptics and ardent believers. It also focuses on the transformative possibilities of the spiritualist theatre, revealing how the performances allowed Victorian women to speak, act, and create outside the boundaries of their restricted social and psychological roles.

About the Author(s)

Amy Lehman has presented research on the theatrical aspects of 19th–century spiritualism at theatre and Victorian studies conferences in the United States and abroad. She is currently on the faculty of the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of South Carolina.

Bibliographic Details

Amy Lehman
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 212
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2009
pISBN: 978-0-7864-3479-4
eISBN: 978-0-7864-5471-6
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      ix

Introduction      1

1. Victorian Theatre and Theatricality in Victorian Culture      9

2. The Victorian Woman as Actress and the Roles She Played      17

3. Mesmer and Charcot: The Trance Performance as Medical Show      31

4. The Performances of Elizabeth O’Key: The Medical Theatre of Mesmerism      39

5. “Double Consciousness” in Acting Theory and Trance State      55

6. “Call Me Gypsy”: Anna Cora Mowatt’s Trance Performances      63

7. The Rise of Spiritualism and the Fox Sisters      79

8. Séance as Theatre      88

9. Spirit Travels to Distant Times and Places      102

10. Cora L. V. Richmond: Spiritualist Trance Star      115

11. The Performance of “Ouina” and the Racial “Other”      127

12. Spiritualism Crosses Over to England: Florence Cook and the Materialization Séance      142

13. “Katie King” and Robert Dale Owen      160

14. Materialization, Ectoplasm and Realism      168

Epilogue      178

Chapter Notes      181

Bibliography      191

Index      199