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Mesmeric Machinery, Textual Production and Simulacra in Bulwer-Lytton's "The Haunted and the Haunters; or, The House and the Brain" Bruce Wyse Were we required to characterise this age of ours by any single epidiet, we should be tempted to call it . . . die Mechanical Age . . . Literature, too, has its Paternoster-row mechanism, its Trade-dinners, its Editorial conclaves, and huge subterranean, puffing bellows; so that books are not only printed, but, in a great measure, written and sold, by machinery. (Thomas Carh/le, "Signs of the Times" 59-62) Robert Lee Wolff remarks that Bulwer-Lytton's 1857 short story, "The Haunted and the Haunters; or, The House and the Brain," "has always been regarded as one of the best Victorian stories of the supernatural" (254). Wolff demonstrates that Bulwer-Lytton not only puts mesmerism and spiritualism to imaginative use in the evocative , yet also discursive tale, but makes a conveniendy noncommittal intervention in the cultural debate over the legitimacy and value of the two phenomena. Bulwer-Lytton, though fascinated by displays of mesmeric control and somnambulistic clairvoyance, and a participant in séances held by the American medium, Daniel Dunglas Home, was reluctant to lend any cultural capital to the contested phenomena of mesmerism and spiritualism through an unambiguous public endorsement Instead, through the unnamed, confident, scientific narratorprotagonist of his tale, he articulates his position, disappointing to proponents of the pseudo-science and the spiritualists alike, that although there is truth to their claims - there is litde of value in their 32volume 30 number 2 Mesmeric Machinery prized paranormal phenomena, that is, there is litde to be gained from induced clairvoyance or intercourse with soul-less phantoms. "The Haunted and the Haunters" has many affinities with the various firsthand reports of hauntings in Catherine Crowe's non-fictional The NightSide of Nature (1848). However, the main purpose of the individual accounts in Crowe's collection is not to inspire fear or dread; instead the accounts work cumulatively to compel belief in the supernatural. Spectral activity in Crowe's compilation sometimes frightens its reporters, but more often it leads to amazement and even at times a kind of amused appreciation; perhaps most typically the haunting proves to be a domestic inconvenience. The collected anecdotes in Crowe's book, then, have an extrinsic purpose, not the inherendy purposeful connectedness, self-contained logic, and tight construction of the short story form. In contrast, what we expect from a fictional rendering, such as Bulwer-Lytton's, of an investigation into site-specific supernatural phenomena is an interesting elaboration of key narrative elements (the "who" as well as the "what" and "where") and a meaningful, causal relation of those elements (the "why" as well as the "how"). Bulwer-Lytton in "The Haunted and the Haunters," however, displays an exasperating indifference to conventional narrative concerns, or rather frustrates the reader by raising central questions and then neglecting or even rejecting them, delineating areas of interest, only to displace or evacuate them. This conspicuously circumscribed, even ascetic narration calls out to be read as an idiosyncratic strategy; coupled with other cues, it warrants a reading of the text as meta-gothic, meta-fictional, and ultimately self-reflexive. There are, in fact, two distinct versions of the story: the original and longer text published in Blackwood'sMagazine and a truncated version. 1 James L. Campbell writes, "The second (shorter) version, the one always reprinted after 1861, [Bulwer-Lytton] reissued in Talesfrom Blackwood's (1st set, vol. 10, 1858-61)" (118). Appearing in BulwerLytton 's Works as a companion piece to his lengthy occult novel, A Strange Story (1861-62), this variant of the text, Wolff asserts, "is the one everybody reads" (259). Presumably Bulwer-Lytton believed Victorian Review (2004)33 B.Wyse that the shortened form of "The Haunted and the Haunters" could stand on its own, possessing the requisite conceptual and narcological integrity of a successful short story. Wolff's evaluation is "that the story is better without" (259) the five page final episode which Bulwer-Lytton eliminated. However, it must be admitted that BulwerLytton 's editorial rationale for excising more than a quarter of the pages of the original was not likely the improvement...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 32-57
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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