Late Victorian Gothic : mental science, the uncanny and scenes of writing
Writers, mental scientists and spiritualists at the fin-de-siècle were haunted by their impossible desire to contain the inchoate elements of the supernatural within the fixity of print. By examining technologies of writing such as the automatic writing of the spiritualist séances, discursive technologies like the telegraph and the photograph, different genres and late nineteenth-century technologies of mental science, this thesis will show that despite writers’ attempts to use technology as a way of translating the supernatural, these tools are incomplete and the supernatural remains only a partially legible script. In addition, the thesis examines how both new technology and explorations into the ghostly aspects of the mind problematised agency. Is the author dictating to the typewriting machine, or is the machine the secret dictator regulating the author’s stylistic choices? Is the spirit at the séance ghostwriting the text? Issues of uncanny authorship are explored in the first chapter, in particular through a close reading of Henry James’s ‘The Private Life’ (1891). The uncanny effects of new technology on the body are also explored in James’s ‘In the Cage’ (1898), and Kipling’s ‘Wireless’ (1901). Chapter Two takes the example of Doyle and how he used the photograph as a technology to attempt to capture the supernatural. Chapter Three looks at mesmerism as a technology of the mind. Chapter Four indicates that traditional notions of Victorian womanhood, as well as writings on mental science, implied that women themselves were ghostly. Chapter Five turns to Vernon Lee, for whom the ghost story blurs literary genres, making indistinct fiction and non-fiction, ghost story and critical essay. Chapter Six returns to a discussion of the ways in which paranormal perception inspires women writers. An examination of Sarah Grand’s The Beth Book (1897) and George Paston’s A Writer of Books (1898) implies that New Woman writers find the altered states they access in their writing both ecstatic and agonising. A re-examination of the uncanny effects of technology through a close reading of Grant Allen’s The Type-Writer Girl (1897) shows that in New Woman fiction, women have the freedom to engage with writing technologies like the typewriter either actively or passively.