A compelling history of the golden era of the Victorian seance that tells the tale of the mediums and psychics, their followers, and the sleuths who set out to expose them
Born of the so-called Victorian ‘pseudo science’ of mesmerism (aptly described by Ambrose Bierce as 'Hypnotism before it wore good clothes, kept a carriage, and asked incredulity to Dinner'), the séance enjoyed a late 19th century golden age that ministered to the Victorian obsession with science, religious doubt, and entertainment.
The séance assumed myriad forms - from entranced maids lecturing on theology to clairvoyants giving notice of stolen property, rapped out messages from the spirit world and ghostly shapes appearing from dark cabinets. Mediums, psychics and somnambulists were investigated by amateur sleuths and by scientists like Faraday and Darwin; their performances imitated and exposed by magicians, denounced by clerics and satirised in the press. Yet the popularity of the séance endured – and does so to this day.
Among the broad gallery of Victorians who found spiritual succour in the mysteries and wonders of the séance are the quacks, bluffers and rogues, but also respected physicians such as Dr. John Elliotson, an early champion of mesmerism, aristocrats and writers as real and rational as Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle. Servants of the Supernatural
tells their fascinating story.
Antonio Melechi is a Visiting Fellow at the University of York and the author of Fugitive Minds
Antonio Melechi’s ‘Fugitive Minds’ was a startlingly original look at how the mind works at extremes. Now, in ‘Servants of the Supernatural’, he takes us on a joyously weird circuit of the Victorian obsession with the supernatural, both as entertainment, and as an exploration of how the mind works. From mesmerism to ectoplasm, it’s all here, and all riotously enjoyable.,In his fascinating book, Servants of the Supernatural, Antonio Melechi brings to life the wonderfully flamboyant cheats and frauds of the 19th century medium trade. We tend to believe that we would never be so gullible. But Melechi’s story arises from the real life Victorian struggles to balance the competing worldviews of science and religion, something we yet wrestle with today. His tale stands beautifully as a reminder to choose one’s beliefs carefully in vulnerable times.,[a] lustrous new book – a history of the heyday of the Victorian séance in all its table-trembling, tambourine-tapping glory.,[An] engrossing account of séances, mesmerism and mediums.,It tells the story of the Victorian obsession with séances, spirit writing, communing with the dead and all the showmanship that went with it…Melechi tells it well and wittily.,Servants of the Supernatural
picks its way through the history of spiritualism in the Victorian era carefully and with an understated wit,Servants of the Supernatural
…is a brief history…of the extraordinary popularity of psychics, mesmerists, mediums and somnambulists in the Victorian era. It is a fascinating and hilarious subject.