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Mesmeric Exorcism, Idolatrous Beliefs, and Bloody Rituals: Mesmerism, Catholicism, and Second Sight in Bram Stoker's Fiction Catherine Wynne In 1843, the mesmeric journal The Zoist recorded that mesmerism was introduced into England by an Irishman, Richard Chenevix, in 1828 (Podmore, Mesmerism 124). On a visit to Ireland in Mayofthatyear, Chenevixreputedlycured adiirty-four-year-old peasant woman ofepilepsyand related ailments aftertwenty-one sittings: "Here was an Irish peasant, fourteen years ago, who had never heard of mesmerism, and ifdisposed to sham, would have no more known what to do than the pig in her cabin" (S. I. L. E. 70). Thus a racist discourse is elided with the marginalized - in terms ofconventional medicine discourse ofmesmerism. But this newscience could notsolelybe exerted upon the masses: it was also, to an extent, a populist movement, respondingto, and to alarge degreeemanating from, the masses- often primitive or colonial.1 It is William Wilde in Irish PopuUr Superstitions [1852] who links contemporary mesmerism in an unflattering manner to its cultural equivalents in primitive societies: The only difference between the water-doctor living in his schloss, the mesmerizer practising in the lordly hall, or the cancerand consumption curer ofthe count or duchess, spending five thousand a-year in advertisements, paid into the queen's exchequer, who drives his carriage and lives in Soho-square, and the "medicine man" ofthe Indian, or the "knowledgeable Victorian Review (2000) C. Wynne woman" of the half-savage islander, residing in a hut cut outofthe side ofa bog-hole, or formed in the cleft of a granite rock, is, that the former are almost invariably wilful impostors, and the latter frequendy believe firmly in the efficacy of their art, and often refuse payment for its exercise. (30-31) In any case, The Zoist's crusade - spearheaded by the zealous John Elliotson - was to make mesmerism a respectable science in the eyes of the medicalhegemony.2It isinterestingto note thatElliotson's conversion to mesmerism was brought about by Chenevix's experimentations on "an ignorant Irish girl" (S. I. L. E. 84). "The labours ofMr. Chenevix," notes TheZoist, "would have been entirely lost, and mesmerism would for a long while have dropped in this country, but for the impression made upon Dr. Elliotson by the case ofthe Irish girl operated upon in St. Thomas's hospital" (S. I. L. E. 88). Intriguing then, that it is an Irish mesmeristoperatingon an Irish girlwho should challengeBritishmedical orthodoxy. Later, two of Elliotson's subjects were Irish maidservants, Elizabeth and Jane O'Key. Alison Winter relates the Irish girls' power. Elizabeth O'Key "examined patients during her trances, prescribed therapies for them" (Winter 79). O'Key, "apoor Irish girl[,] stands, clad in a nightgown, the center ofattention in a space identified with elite, progressive science and medicine. She speaks in a familiar and even disrespectful manner to doctors, natural philosophers, members of Parliament, and aristocrats" (Winter 105). Winter articulates this as a form of"class resistance" (81) butignores its colonial implications. Irish mesmerists, Irish subjects, and, ultimately, an Irish novel preoccupied with mesmerism, all pose a challenge to British political and imperial rectitude. In the fictions ofBram Stoker, mesmerism and the occult largely emanate from the margins of the imperial centre, where both are perceived capable ofexerting a reverse colonialism. By threatening the preservation ofthe mind's autonomy and byexposing the limitations of conventional science, mesmerism penetrated theVictorian self. Indeed, much ofthe conflict in the gothic fiction ofthis Irish writer reflects the ^Avolume 26 number 1 Mesmeric Exorcism, Idolatrous Beliefs, and Bloody Rituals tension between science, mesmerism, and the occult. Again and again, science's hegemonous control of knowledge is sharply abraded by an intrusive otherknowledge. Itis notsurprising thatitis a diasporicwriter who should articulate the instability of the dominant culture and its ultimateredundantefforts to quell thecolonized's spiritual, superstitious, and occultist propinquities. Stoker's work also engages with Scottish "second sight." This strange visionary and occultist force features as a predominant trope in his fiction. In Stoker's oeuvre, the intrusion of other knowledges is simultaneouslysignalled as a threatand as a rightful, ifaggressive, assertion ofcultural difference. However, a comprehensive examination ofthis area must be prefaced by a briefhistorical study of mesmerism. Magnets, Fluids, and Ecstatic Trances: Mesmer...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 43-63
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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