Otherworldly figures: rhetoric, representation and the public performance of femininity in nineteenth-century spirit mediums' autobiographies

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This dissertation theorizes nineteenth-century public performance of spiritual media as being inherent to the production of autobiography itself. Too often, dominant social discourses are cast as being singular cultural phenomena,

This dissertation theorizes nineteenth-century public performance of spiritual media as being inherent to the production of autobiography itself. Too often, dominant social discourses are cast as being singular cultural phenomena, but analyzing the rhetorical strategies of women attempting to access public spheres reveals fractures in what would otherwise appear to be a monolithic patriarchal discourse. These women's resistant performances reap the benefits of a fractured discourse to reveal a multiplicity of alternative discourses that can be accessed and leveraged to gain social power. By examining the phenomena of four nineteenth- century Spiritualists' mediumship from a rhetorical perspective, this study considers how female spirit mediums used their autobiographies to operate as discursive spaces mediating between private and public spheres; how female mediums constructed themselves in the public sphere as women and as spiritual authorities; how they negotiated entry into volatile and unpredictable publics; how they conceived of the vulnerability of the female body in the public sphere; and how they coped with complications inherent to Victorian era constructions of feminine corporeality. In conclusion, this dissertation offers a highly situated performative theory of subaltern publicity.