Subversive Spirits: Spiritualism and Female Desire
The relationship between the female body and the spirit or ‘word’, divinely inspired, has always been problematic in patriarchal thinking, and the first chapter of this book indicated some of the religious and scientific arguments used in the nineteenth century to explain the perceived conflict between them. The world of spiritualism, however, as practised in late Victorian society, was one area of ‘religious’ experience in which women were able to participate actively, since it was commonly held that women were particularly gifted at communicating with the dead. Spiritualism, after all, began in 1848 in the home of two young American girls, Kate and Maggie Fox, who became famous as spirit-mediums. From there it spread to Europe, with the help of the popular press, largely through female mediumship, which became an often profitable career for middle-class and, occasionally, working-class women. Yet the nature and meaning of their participation are highly ambivalent. On the one hand, it appears to indicate that women can possess spiritual powers; on the other, it can be argued that the female medium is, as the term suggests, merely a passive vehicle, her body being used by the spirit messenger, just as the Virgin Mary was the vehicle for the Word of God made flesh.
KeywordsFemale Body Romantic Love Spirit World Female Medium Gender Discourse
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