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Beryl Satter. Each Mind a Kingdom:American Women, SexualPurity, and the New TboughtMovement, 1875-1920. (Berkeley: University of CaUfornia Press, 1999), xi + 382 pp. IUustrations, notes, bibUography, index. ISBN 0-52021765 -9. This extensively-researched, incisively-argued study places an iUremembered confluence of doctrines on mental heaUng, widely popular in the postbeUum United States, under sustained historical scrutiny. As Satter makes clear, the relative neglect of New Thought as a historical phenomenon is bound up with its typical dismissal, when it is mentioned at aU, as merely a crass program of economic upUft. Her book does more than outline a distinctive US manifestation of the beUef in mind over matter: it argues persuasively that the complex, often contradictory commitments at issue in New Thought cannot be understood apart from interrelated debates about gender, race, and desire in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century America. As a system of beUef placing heavy emphasis on the power of mind to transcend material conditions - and so to overcome material constraints - New Thought harkened back to methods (not to mention ambiguities) associated with mesmerism. Its more immediate inspiration, though, came from the Christian Science of Mary Baker Eddy. In her theology, Eddy postulated that the universe, produced by divine Mind, the mind of God, is purely spiritual and purely good, but is obscured by the false beUefs of mortal mind in matter and materiaUty. Salvation therefore entails faith in an entirely spiritual world and refusal of matter's existence altogether - efforts that Eddy, by inverting the traditional association of man with mind and woman with matter, argued women were best suited to lead. Practitioners of New Thought would take up and transform (or, as Eddy maintained, distort) such key concepts, most significandy by emphasizing the place of desire in the struggle of mind with matter. For influential New Thought figures such as Emma Curtis Hopkins, Helen Van-Anderson, Ursula Gestefeld, AUce Bunker Stockham, and Helen WUmans, desire was not, as Eddy insisted, merely a symptom of matter, of mortal mind, in urgent need of suppression; instead, desire offered a tantaĆ¼zing, vexatious means to power. "Desire" in New Thought named material hopes and sexual longings, but it also named rights of thought, feeling, action - "in short," as Satter contends, what we have come to understand as "subjectivity" (15). Yet since within mainstream Victorianism Victorian Review (2005)1 23 Reviews desire tended to be so problematic - not to mention antithetical to an ideaUzed femininity - New Thought efforts to re-evaluate desire's power and potential were fraught with difficulty. Repeatedly in Satter's account, New Thought writers labour to accommodate desire, as often rejecting as embracing it, and always evincing a conflicted fascination in their treatments of the concept. As Satter makes clear, the stakes at issue had everything to do with the understanding of gendered identity in postbeUum America. At a historical moment when prevaiUng models of social conduct and reform tended to deUmit women's agency by ideaUzing feminine purity and passivity, even to raise the possibiUty of female desire as a positive force was to alter what it could mean to be female, and so to reimagine social and sexual relations between women and men. For Satter, it is this potential to achieve profound shifts in cultural understanding that explains the simultaneous popularity and disreputability of New Thought. It also explains the predominance of women within the movement, and its appeal to economicaUy-marginaUzed women in particular. In the face of a cultural common-sense that inscribed femininity in constrictive terms - instinct, sensitivity, physical weakness, dependency - New Thought afforded its female adherents a means to use mind and spirit to conquer matter in the interests of a reinvigorated, spirituaUy pure desire. In effect, the doctrine promised to find, in the very attributes that had traditionaUy signaUed women's disempowerment, the conditions of Uberty and new social power. Given the resonance around 1900 of questions of gender for debates about 'civiUzation' and 'racial destiny,' not surprisingly the exponents of New Thought tended as a matter of course to articulate the significance of their doctrines in raciaUzed terms. During a period in which white, middleclass reformers and social theorists argued over the key sign...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 123-125
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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