Dickens and Mesmerism: The Hidden Springs of Fiction

Dickens and Mesmerism: The Hidden Springs of Fiction

Fred Kaplan
Copyright Date: 1975
Pages: 274
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    Dickens and Mesmerism: The Hidden Springs of Fiction
    Book Description:

    Drawing on fresh source material, Fred Kaplan considers the importance From Dickens and Mesmerism of Dickens' involvement with mesmerism for his work and his personality. In so doing he describes a significant intellectual and spiritual movement and provides new and controversial insights into Dickens' fiction.

    The mesmeric movement in England, particularly its controversial activities during the late 1830s and the 1840s, intensified Dickens' concern with the ways in which people discover and exert their energies and will to control each other. Dickens' own activities as a mesmerist provide the biographical touchstone for his image of himself as a doctor of the mind. Fred Kaplan examines the author's entire oeuvre in a synoptic, thematic fashion, exploring the attitudes shaped by the mesmerists that are reflected in the novels' psychological tensions. The final chapter provides an overview of the Romantic, Victorian, and Modern currents that may be found in Dickens' fascination with mesmeric power.

    Originally published in 1975.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6970-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Fred Kaplan
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Table of Contents
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. CHAPTER I ‟The Mesmeric Mania”
    (pp. 3-33)

    At least as early as January of 1838 Charles Dickens was persuaded to attend a demonstration of the “mighty curative powers of animal magnetism” or mesmerism given by John Elliotson, the outspoken senior physician and Professor of the Principles and Practice of Medicine at the University of London.¹ The invitation did not come in a vacuum. Undoubtedly Dickens, in his role of artistic London gentleman in a vivacious circle of successful men like William Macready, William Harrison Ainsworth, and George Cruikshank and up-and-coming stars like John Forster, Daniel Maclise, Robert Browning, Edward Bulwer, and Richard Monckton Milnes, had his fingers...

  7. CHAPTER II Dickens Discovers Mesmerism
    (pp. 34-54)

    On the 4th of April 1837 “a girl sixteen years of age, a housemaid” named Elizabeth O’key, who had been subject for the twelve previous months to attacks of epilepsy, had been admitted to University College Hospital under the care of Elliotson.¹ Her sister Jane followed, also epileptic, but lacking the abilities that were soon to motivate hostile critics to call Elizabeth “the prima donna of the magnetic stage.” She was unusually small and physically undeveloped.² On the back of her right hand, “she had several inflamed spots … sites of large warts … which she frequently picked, and prevented...

  8. CHAPTER III ‟A Believer”
    (pp. 55-73)

    Between January 1839 and June 1844, when Dickens departed with his entire family for a year’s stay in Italy, where he was to have his most significant mesmeric experiences, he and Elliotson saw one another frequently. Dickens began to talk about and practice mesmerism with an enthusiasm that found its way into the letters and memoirs of these years. Though he was feverishly busy with the writing ofNicholas Nickleby, The Old Curiosity Shop, Barnaby Rudge,andMartin Chuzzlewit,the occasions on which he refused dinner invitations “to keep on” at his writing were balanced by those on which he...

  9. CHAPTER IV Dickens and the de la Rues
    (pp. 74-105)

    Even before the Dickens entourage arrived in Italy, the de la Rues were part of their fate. Dickens’ bumbling well-intentioned friend, the Scots sculptor Angus Fletcher, who had been residing in Genoa, knew Emile de la Rue well enough to consult him about renting a palazzo for the visiting English celebrity. The Swiss banker, who had made Genoa his permanent home, was a man of acute practicality. He resided with his English-born wife, her mother, and later their children, with frequent visits from one of Madame de la Rue’s brothers, in a top-floor apartment in the Palazzo or Brignole Rosso,...

  10. CHAPTER V The Discovery of Self
    (pp. 106-138)

    Catherine’s fear that her husband was indeed having an affair with Madame de la Rue may have been unfounded in fact. She had, however, not only personal grounds for her suspicions but wide support from the sensational literature of the period that insisted on associating mesmerism with sex. For Dickens the intensity of his experience with Madame de la Rue was a crucial step in the process of self-discovery. More so than any great writer in our literature, he conducted his education in public, publishing serial fictions whose life and vivid substance were the results of dramatizing his deepest concerns....

  11. CHAPTER VI The Past Illumined
    (pp. 139-164)

    The search for self demands an exploration of one’s past. But how is one to get at it? Through what techniques is the elusive past accessible? Dickens assumes that one’s distant past is central to one’s sense of oneself and one’s powers in the adult present and future. The years of infancy and childhood are formative; the mature present cannot be understood without coming to terms with the inheritance that genetics and environment have forced upon the child, who in Dickens’ world comes not “trailing clouds of glory … from God who is [his] home,” but shorn, often like the...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. CHAPTER VII The Sources of Evil
    (pp. 165-186)

    The mesmeric force that pervades the universe is volatile and seemingly inexplicable. How is it to be brought under control? And will it be used for ends positive or negative in respect to Dickens’ conception of human welfare and the Victorians’ sense of consonance with universal harmony? Dickens’ vision demanded that he explore both the faculty that permits the operator to harness this energy and the quality of his use of it. A wide range of human personalities and relationships could be the substance of this exploration, for every conceivable facet of human activity lent itself to description and analysis...

  14. CHAPTER VIII The Sexuality of Power
    (pp. 187-215)

    One special kind of control that pulses through Dickens’ fiction with all its ambiguities, threats, and anxieties is sexual domination and submission. Do we really find “so little suggestion of sexual or sensuous love in his novels’?¹ Of course we must distinguish between manifestations of the sexual drive on the one hand and sexual love-making on the other. Across the beds of the latter Dickens draws an obscuring curtain, just as he does across the “passions” of his own marital and extra-marital “affairs.” Sometimes Dickens creates characters who make no appeal to the erotic imagination; at other times the sexual...

  15. CHAPTER IX Dickens’ Century
    (pp. 216-242)

    “ ‘It must have been a dream, Oliver,’ ” Harry Maylie attempts to persuade the boy who has just been in a special kind of sleep in which “reality and imagination become so strangely blended that it is … almost a matter of impossibility to separate the two” (OT, xxxv, xxxiv). Fagin’s manipulative eyes have become a part of Oliver’s consciousness, piercing through the external and the internal windows. Though it was indeed Fagin out there whom Oliver saw, Harry Maylie is right, and Oliver is beginning to learn the truths that surface through even the submerged language of cliche...

  16. INDEX
    (pp. 243-250)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 251-251)