Gender and the Supernatural in the Victorian Short Story
The Victorian period is generally thought of as an age where science and its discoveries led to a shift from the religious to a scientific explanation of the natural world. Obviously at the centre of this whole shift was Charles Darwin, his powerful inferences and the delayed publication of The Origin of Species, as he feared disturbing established religious and social practices. And the crises of faith it did instill affected an entire generation. However much we wish to adhere to this scientific aspect of the Victorian period, one cannot ignore the fact that the age also saw a proliferation of the interest and belief in the supernatural, the occult, in ghost stories, séances et al. The rapid development of science often blurred the boundaries between science and religio-supernatural beliefs, as Roger Luckerst comments “Because the advances in science were so rapid, the natural and the supernatural often became blurred in popular thinking, at least for a time. And no area of the literary culture of the Victorians was left untouched by this interplay of science and magic”. Rise of mesmerism, spiritualism, séances, mediums and magic interpolated the otherwise scientific ambience. In 1882, a group of earnest intellectuals founded the Society for Psychical Research. They aimed to investigate the claims of Mesmerism, Spiritualism and authenticated ‘true’ ghost stories. The 1880s saw the formation of more overtly mystical societies and a magical revival. London became the home of Madame Blavatsky, the medium for dictations from the Mahatmas, who later provided the basis for her Theosophical Society. Supernatural, thus, was an important ingredient of Victorian fiction, and specifically the short story. Though a number of important supernatural writers of the period were male, the genre was perhaps more dominated by women. And even in the stories, it is usually either children or women who are first subject to haunting or supernatural sightings. One obvious explanation is the conventional ideas about gender roles then in circulation. Spiritualism, or making contact with the spirits of the dead, became extremely popular during this time period, but it was no coincidence that almost all spirit mediums were women. Spiritualism was seen as a more appropriate career for women than for men, because of its perceived emotional and thus unmanly nature, and the ghost story likewise may have been a genre considered better suited to women than to men.
Keeping these ideas about the Victorian supernaturalism in mind, the proposed volume would seek to re-explore the treatment of gender issues and the supernatural in the short stories of both male and female writers of the genre in the Victorian period. In doing so, the aim shall be to focus upon the differences generated through such gendered handling of the supernatural short story genre, and offer reinterpretations through psychoanalytical theories. And by stretching the term ‘Victorian’ beyond its rigid geographical confines important short story writers of the supernatural from America and even all of Britain’s Colonies in the nineteenth century, may also be studied, to attempt a holistic understanding of the parameters and ideas which triggered the proliferation and popularity of the genre. Some of the issues which may be dealt with are, but are not restricted to:
Victorian Spiritualism, mesmerism and the short story
Victorians: Folklore and superstition
Supernatural as Ruse: Crime and Detection in Victorian Short Stories
Victorian Supernaturalism: Gender and Class
Victorian Supernatural Fiction: Britain and Beyond
Some important writers to be focused upon, but not restricted to:
Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell, Thomas Hardy, Rhoda Broughton, Vernon Lee, Edith Nesbit (Britain) Edgar Allen Poe, Edith Wharton, Charlotte Perkins Gilman (USA) Henry Lawson, Mary Fortune (Australia)
Contributors are free to send queries at:
Oindrila_24@yahoo.com before sending formal abstracts.
Send your 500 word abstracts and brief bionote (150 words max.) by 25th April, 2020
After being notified about selection contributors shall be expected to submit full papers by 30th May, 2020
The book shall be published by Avenel Press, Kolkata.