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  • Consuming Visions: Mass Culture and the Lourdes Shrine
  • Sara James
Consuming Visions: Mass Culture and the Lourdes Shrine. By Suzanne K. Kaufman . Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2005. viii + 255 pp. Hb £20.50; $34.95.

Consuming Visions offers a lucid and persuasive challenge to the Durkheimian view that the sacred and profane cannot successfully interact. It does so by demonstrating how Lourdes evolved as a modern capitalist shrine, from Bernadette's visions in 1858, through the establishment of the town as a thriving centre of religious tourism, to the controversies this blend of faith and commodity culture provoked in the 1890s. In fact, Kaufman traces Durkheim's distinction between sacred and profane back to these very [End Page 277] controversies, seeing the 'problem' of Lourdes as emblematic of problems of the modern social order and the commercializing public sphere. Chapters on the refashioning of pilgrimage as spectacle and on the commercialization of Lourdes examine the Church's use of technological advances — the railway, the popular press, advertising and mass marketing — as a means of resurrecting piety. Kaufman argues that modernization created new devotional practices based on visual spectacle, consumerism and tourism. These boosted the region's economic fortunes while enabling provincial pilgrims to experience the thrills of modernity at first hand. The inevitable corollaries of fraud and the area's economic dependence on the shrine brought both religious and secular anxieties concerning capitalism to the fore. Subsequent chapters discuss the management and publication of 'cures' through the Medical Bureau, and the involvement of female 'miraculées' in spectacles and written accounts of healing. Here, Kaufman investigates the role of Lourdes in promoting the study of illnesses such as hysteria and in generating ambivalence towards modern medicine: ascribing authority to doctors by incorporating clinical diagnosis and examination in the healing rituals, yet focusing on the body of the healed miraculée as evidence of divine intervention in the face of incompetent, or even sadistic medical practice. Her assertion that miraculées offered a 'new model for imagining the feminine public self' is confirmed by an impressive range of archival material concerning the role of women as participants in the rituals and by attention to the rhetorical strategies underpinning women's testimonials of healing. The book ends by analysing fin-de-siècle disputes over the Lourdes cures. Kaufman compares these to the press wars over the Dreyfus Affair, with polemics turning on credibility and character, ultimately revealing how far both sides were implicated by their commercial and economic interests and giving more power to the press the more questions of truth and certainty were undermined. Analysis of literary representations is brief, but demonstrates the range of reactions to Lourdes in the context of these debates: from criticism based on rejection of the modern world and Republicanism in the works of Bloy, Péguy and Claudel to Huysmans's attempts to understand how religious and secular modernity might serve God and Zola's exploration of the mind and powers of suggestion in Lourdes (1894). Strongly argued, well written and ably supported by a wealth of research and by numerous illustrations, the book will undoubtedly interest scholars of nineteenth-century visual, political and popular culture and of the history of medicine.

Sara James
Merton College, Oxford


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pp. 277-278
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