Confronting child loss: the impulse to spiritualism in late nineteenth-century women's ghost stories

Vincent, Emily ORCID: 0000-0001-6369-8993 (2024). Confronting child loss: the impulse to spiritualism in late nineteenth-century women's ghost stories. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis examines how Florence Marryat (1833 ̶ 1899), Margaret Oliphant (1828 ̶ 1897), and Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860 ̶ 1935) turned to the late nineteenth-century Spiritualist movement to narratively confront lived experiences of child loss and maternal grief, and facilitate literary communities of grief. I consider each author’s literary, emotional, and theological impulses to Spiritualism in Britain and the United States, focusing on their aesthetic representations of lost children and bereaved mothers in their ghost stories, Spiritualist non-fiction, and in Spiritualist periodicals. In so doing, I demonstrate how Marryat, Oliphant, and Gilman used ghost stories as therapeutic spaces publicly to vocalise maternal trauma, process child bereavement, and facilitate redemptive communities of shared grief. I close read their Spiritualist works, examine supernatural periodicals, and assess archival life-writing and correspondence to foreground the communities of grief enabled by the séance. Chapter One illustrates the subaltern maternal networks of Marryat’s devout Spiritualist fiction and memoirs, examining how ghost-seeing servants act as saviours of threatened children, assessing the consolatory figure of a materialised spirit child, and explore how Spiritualism enabled the transgression of moral and biological boundaries. Chapter Two asserts Oliphant’s Spiritualist equivocations, examining her Stories of the Seen and the Unseen against her fin-de-siècle life-writing, considering the overlap of mourning and writing processes and close reading how her realist depictions of parental grief and child loss problematised the ‘unseen’. Chapter Three examines Gilman’s investment in literary and feminist Spiritualist communities, locating her in the American Spiritualist press, and navigating her subversive ghost stories which centralise surrogate mothers and assess the effects of grief on bereaved female bodies and minds. I close gesturing towards the narrative communities of grief which Spiritualism continued to facilitate into the early twentieth century.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and Creative Studies
Funders: Other
Other Funders: The Sir Richard Stapley Educational Trust, The Humanitarian Trust, The Yorkshire Ladies Council of Education
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D204 Modern History
P Language and Literature > PR English literature
P Language and Literature > PS American literature


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