Nov 6, 2017 in Literature Category

Pseudoscience and Spiritualism in 19th Century Literature

Science has gradually affected literature in a remarkably intricate manner. Any discovery in science has an impact on literature in that the authors or memoir writers would strive to make a relation to certain behaviors, which have cropped up in the society while connecting them with facts that have been laid down in science. In general terms, literature and science strike a connection that may probably last; otherwise scientific finds may not be relevant if not well explained in a manner, which may be identified and gripped by the society. Efforts by writers to incorporate scientific facts in their mostly fiction stories is not all ambiguous and in vain, because readers become aware of certain abnormal behaviors and how to deal with them. This essay will focus on the impacts of the manifestation of spiritualist theory on the novel, The Strange Transfiguration of Hannah Stubbs, Literature and Science in the Nineteenth Century, basing on the two articles by Florence Marryat and a critical article similar to the issues of scientific spiritualism and its manifestation in the literature.

The Strange Transfiguration of Hannah Stubs is a story revolving around Signor Ricardo, his landlady named Mrs. Battleby, Ricardo’s friend Dr Steinberg, Hannah Stubbs and Leonora who, in the story, is the deceased wife of Ricardo. As the story commences Hannah is depicted as a weird girl, apparently she was handed over to Mrs. Battleby as a maid after her previous owner complained of ongoing spooky things, which included furniture moving around by itself. Spiritualism is literary introduced here and further substantiated by a finding that Ricardo and his friend have an ingrown interest in science; moreover, they frenetically dream of changing the world and solving its mysteries. As a student of Spiritualism, Ricardo is confident in his beliefs and Dr Steinberg, on the other hand, is guided by his skeptical ideas. Events unfold, and we are made aware of Ricardo’s inhumanly act of stabbing his wife to death on mere allegations that she was committing adultery. A cloud of guilt and regret looms around him, and he reveals that his study of the occult had been instigated by the love, which he had for his wife, in desperation to raise her spirit and establish the truth. Ricardo’s perception of being able to raise Learato to the extent of creating a séance room shows his despicable belief in magic, which irritates his friend to the point of Dr Steinberg accusing him of being in union with the Evil One (Marryat 4).

 Ricardo coincidentally discovers a down casted Hannah and is drawn to her by her strange eyes and seeks to assist her in her plight. There and then the distraught Hannah demonstrates to him her ability to make things move, and Stenberg makes his appearance in time an apology, and he and Ricardo manage to convince Hannah that she can be cured of her illness. It is evident that human beings consider the talk and belief in spiritual manifestation to be cynical. The book points out that Steinberg considered Hannah to be ill, terming her capability of moving things as a case of hysteria, thereby dismissing the Ricardo’s idea that she might be in possession of mediumistic powers. The readers are, therefore, bewildered at the unusual abilities of Hannah, and these are a driving factor for one to dig deep into the book. Spiritualism, as we glimpse from the reactions of the characters from the book, is a fascinating thing and is rarely admitted as a fact by humans.

Arthur Doyle in his book, the history spiritualism was quite passionate about the remarkable episodes in the contemporary spiritual developments in humanity. The author dedicated numerous chapters to explaining the history of explaining current movements that have had a massive impact on human beings since the messianic movements. His work was a result of intense research into the human spiritual world.  Coming from a strong religious background, Arthur Doyle spent most of his time researching about the way human beings connect to their supreme being. The history of spiritualism is a text that addressed spiritual matters based on the author’s personal experience (Doyle, 13).

According to the author, the history of new spiritualism is heavily founded on the in the 1848 efforts of the famous fox sisters. The author meticulously takes the readers through the frantic struggles and milestones of the fox sister’s movement. The book describes spiritualism as something that is essential for every human being. Spiritualism as presented in the book as a guide that not only connects human beings to their creator, but it is also an important ingredient in social cohesion. The author, through his years of intense research discovered that spiritualism and humanity are similar elements separated by a thin line in lives of human beings (Doyle, 18)

I would say I found rather amusing that after Hannah was reassured of the men’s proposal, she is horrified of the séance room upon her entry. Moreover, bemusing is the sudden spirit voice that addresses them, proclaiming Hannah as one amongst the finest mediums in the world and alarms them with a warning that any spirit can assimilate her. Hannah then dramatically awakens from her fainting as soon as the spirit’s presence vanishes totally oblivious of the recent events. Surprisingly, Dr Steinberg stubbornly declines to admit what has happened and keeps speculating that Hannah must have had a hand in it. Walking a mile in the doctor’s shoes, I find his response to the turns of events as normal, considering he is a doctor who would even liken the events to Hanna being a mental case and his friend Ricardo to be floating on a delusion (Marryat 12).

Spiritualism, as defined by authors, is essentially the emergence of an internal power that can either be of a lower or higher form. This history of spiritualism has nevertheless not been paramount or rather recognized in the human world. In the strange transfiguration, the author with her use of spiritualism in literature keeps exploring this mythical topic. Hannah begins her role in the séances, but the act of summoning the spirits wears her out, and she reveals that some woman keeps haunting her. The description of the woman is similar to Leonora, and this excites Ricardo who urges her on. Steinberg continues with his role of utter disbelief with the ongoing occurrences, and when the spirit guide persists to fill Hannah’s mouth with water, he still asserts that it may be her ventriloquism. The doctor ultimately begins to view Hannah as a science experiment. Hannah confides in him that her powers were not all virtuous news, so they led to the apparent estrangement between her and her family and her hope is in Dr Steinberg’s so called cure to heal her past wounds.

The practice of spiritualism must be a hideous and discreet one as witnessed in the novel. With time, the presence of Hannah in the attic room and with men raises suspicion to one person, Mrs. Battleby, who imagines that an orgy might be taking place in there. Meanwhile, just as the spirit warned, Hannah is consequently possessed by several spirits who assimilate her, the likes of Dr Steinberg’s amputated patient and the sought after the spirit of Leonora. Mrs. Battleby does not give up her habit of spying, and soon she discovers that some form of sorcery is taking place in the room after listening on them and hearing voices calling names of the people, who are supposedly dead. Horrified, she informs the Stubbs family who hurry to visit Hannah (Marryat 27).

Hannah’s mother is accompanied by her fiancée who on arrival instantly denounce the engagement due to her persistent practice of raising and talking to spirits. Mrs. Stubbs disowns her daughter, and in her anger he alleges poor Hannah of selling her soul to the devil because there seems to be no other way for one to be in communication with spirits to the extent of being possessed. Ricardo allays Hannah’s fear with promises of taking care of her feeling that his actions have contributed much to Hannah’s ruin; therefore; he has to be responsible. He even makes a decision to marry her, to Dr. Sternberg’s dismay. He explains this motive to his friend, the doctor that, by marrying Hannah, he will be in close and constant contact with his late wife’s spirit. The three eventually move to another apartment, and Hannah gives in to Ricardo pleas to be a medium once.

Spirits can turn out to be stubborn and beyond the human control. Whenever Leonora was summoned, she made sure Ricardo stayed out of her way and vanished on any attempts of Ricardo getting close to her. This immensely torments Ricardo but excites Hannah, and she gradually starts feeling indispensible. A certain pride develops in her, and she often declines to be submissive to her husband. Dr Steinberg’s steps in to try and model her into the proper wife that she is supposed to be, but Hannah flirts with him. The author reveals to us about Dr Steinberg’s unexpected inheritance and a trip to Berlin, which he regards as a timely intervention and a perfect opportunity to make his departure. Hannah silently wishes she had chosen to marry the doctor instead of the poor and wretched Ricardo.

Further in the novel, Hannah keeps doing inexplicable things as the author develops the theme of spiritualism. Indeed, this practice of spiritualism must include mysterious events enough to baffle someone. As they discuss Dr Steinberg’s newly found wealth, Hannah begins to spell out her knowledge about Ricardo’s past wealth. Later on, as he wonders about his wife’s unpleasant behavior, Leonora confirms that that is his punishment for taking her life. Hannah keeps on overpowering Ricardo and, when Dr Sternberg requests her to perform a séance and Ricardo objects, she threatens Ricardo with dire consequences that she will not let Leonora appear to him. Ricardo is defeated and has to give in, since Leonora had not even forgiven him yet. Proud Hannah keeps flirting with the doctor, who begins to like her. This new transformed Hannah sounds a little bit strange and foreign, and Dr Sternberg cannot help but admire her, even though he swears to keep his distance (Marryat 8).

As mentioned earlier, spiritual practice can draw people to a person like a magnet does. The doctor irresistibly makes back to the apartment the next morning, after opting to keep his distance the previous night. Ricardo is uncomfortable, and he confronts Dr Steinberg informing him that no more séances can be held at his home, because his wife has become unruly and distressed to him. She even declined to summon the spirit of Leonora when he asked her to do so. Steinberg pleads Hannah to be kind to her husband for the sake of his old age, and he even suggests that she should keep out of her husband’s way any poisonous substances that may trigger him to attempt suicide. Hannah accepts to be nicer to her husband but still lets Steinberg know that one day he will be hers. Talk of spells, now that is what lingers in Steinberg’s mind. He wonders if this new Hannah’s spirituality has finally taken a toll on him.

Things are in a sweat between Ricardo and his medium wife, and in a confrontation, Hannah unexpectedly admits that she is detailed of how Ricardo killed his wife and these causes more agony and saps Ricardo off his strength. A spiral of events follows and eventually after falsely trying to act kind, Hannah sends the old man to his grave. At this point, readers are not sure if its Leonora disguised as Hannah or the other way round. The bereaved Steinberg is blindly made to believe that Ricardo, his friend, took his life by himself. Saddened by the recent events he advises Hannah to keep holding séances so that she can make her own money, but the pretentious and sly Hannah already knows what she is up to do. As a last resolute, Sternberg decides to marry her unaware of the title that she now discreetly posses “Marchessa d Sorrento”. Together they move to popular urban centers, and Hannah continues to perform séances.

The novel reveals the triumph of Hannah’s spirituality powers and how people are amazed and inclined to rely on spiritualism, so as to heal them and settle certain issues in their lives. Spiritual practice may sound as a myth to people, but with tangible evidence it raises speculation and attracts a large number of curious humans who want to have a taste of this strange medicine, and this is the reason of the large audience that Hannah ultimately had behind her husband’s back. However, it does not take long for Dr Steinberg to discover that his wife is an entirely different person. She claims not to know her family. Sternberg further discovers that Hannah killed Ricardo when the spirit of Ricardo appears to him secretly in a séance sitting. In her defense, Sternberg realizes that the woman talking out of remorse over Ricardo causing Leonora’s death is no other by Leonora d Assisi. A violent dispute occurs, and Sergeant pushes Leonora down the stairs. The boy is not all disfigured, and Sergeant is relieved to find that Hannah has regained her true form. She even inquires about Ricardo and her mother. Unfortunately, her mother had died, and when he proceeds to break this sad news to Hannah he finds her spirit arising and embracing that of her mother. This wraps up the spiritual journey of the powerful medium.

There has been lots of a dispute concerning the science of spiritualism according to Marryat’s articles. Being a spiritualist, she insists that she has had encounters with spirits herself and argues that people have not seen or heard what she has been lucky enough to experience, and that does not justify their reasons for disputing what she considers real and existent. Marryat has written several books and affirms that her father was a strong believer in ghosts and even proclaimed himself a ghost seer. She slightly highlights her father’s experiences with ghosts that were derived from his memoirs and is proud to have followed in his footsteps. She asserts spiritualism is not a humbug, neither an exceedingly solemn thing but a sacred light that opens a vast area for thought and that spirituality is an undeniable fact that should be embraced. Men of science, she claims have acknowledged spiritualism, and she raises the issue that in human bodies lays a fallowed power and magnetic force that people have yet to reckon to their own benefits. If we can read each other’s innermost thoughts and tell of certain things that we expect to happen in the future, then we have greater power, more than we can imagine and a vast deal of things could be done using these powers.

On the question of religion and spiritualism, Marryat brilliantly states that the history of spiritualism is derived from the bible itself and that she does not understand why Christians are against spiritualism. Science, according to her, is not sufficiently supported by religion rather criticized and disbanded. In her articles about literature and science, she is remarkably convincing of the existence of spiritualism only that people are unable to experience what she and other mediums experience by disregarding the practice. Her articles are captivating and include apparitions not necessarily carried out by her but as a witness as other mediums performed séances. She mentions that, in promoting the science of spiritualism, she has attended séances in various countries and travelled mostly throughout America and England to lecture and interact with people who believed in spiritualism. Most astonishing is that it is alleged in her book that, even if one is still alive, their spirits can unbelievingly leave their bodies and manifest themselves either orally or visibly to others. She demonstrates these statements by leaving readers in awe. However, her illustrations are quite organized. Marryat is not a mere rambler on the topic of spiritualism and its consequent development during the nineteenth century, and she backs up her explanations with solid evidence and even invites criticism (Marryat 32).

As expected, spiritualism has been criticized as others support the idea of the existence of the spirit that departs from the person upon death and becomes lifeless, yet still embodying the person’s weakness and strengths and, in the same time, there is a strong opposition to spiritualism by others. For some people, personality and ego does not survive when the person dies. They instead believe that individuality survives the body’s death, and personality and ego of the deceased are done away with at the moment of his demise. There are other articles that allege that the early prophets and saints did not talk to God in person but through mediation with the higher spirits. This great science of spiritualism has enabled adaptation of wisdom and the discovery of hidden scientific concepts.

Spiritualism, as we come to discover, is divided into two parts, The Anglo American and French. The Anglo Americans insist that there are no such things as reincarnation because of the ongoing revolution process. They also constantly downgrade the body and its physical existence. According to their beliefs, the spiritual form of a person is highly regarded versus its physical form; hence the spirit world is viewed as superior. The French spiritualism differs on the subject of the existence of reincarnation and its backers have temples that seek to help spirits which are in confusion after death. Healing is also practiced by the healers moving their hands in a motion close to the bodies (Kazlev).

The paradisiacal spiritual eschatology highlights that the soul is where the spirit resides, and it is similar to the body. When one dies the eschatology of spiritualism goes on and spells that one possesses a different body that is more beautiful and stunning than the physical, human body. In the spirit world, one may develop morally and add onto whatsoever knowledge he or she had before passing to the afterlife. Those in the spirit world not only just roam around doing nothing, but they hold discussions and guide the new comers, and apparently there is no judgment for the dead. The evil ones are punished and rescued ultimately by other higher spirits.

Christianity does not augur well with the science of spiritualism, and people practicing it are termed as “spiritualists” rather than Christians. However, as others have tried to put it forward, there is a whole difference between religion and spirituality. Spiritualism suggests man to be of a dual being, that of the physical and spiritual form. Spiritualism, moreover, is in support of communication between the dead and the living through a medium. However, religion supports no such thing. Spiritualists nevertheless insist that they are Christians and recognize Jesus as a divine being (Kazlev).

In conclusion, the science of spiritualism can only be proved to the individual who cares to know more of the realm of spirits hovering around us. Marryat said, only those who can develop interest and learn to explore their inner power can ultimately come to terms with spiritualism. Otherwise, it may be just any nonsensical practice that, in some cases, is denounced from the society and considered a taboo. However, I would challenge people to take the matter of spiritualism seriously, who knows, it may even result to an unbelievable adventure after all.

Related essays