Book Chapter

Women Writers and the Theosophical Tale of Terror



Ferguson C (2021) Women Writers and the Theosophical Tale of Terror. In: Bloom C (ed.) Palgrave Handbook of Steam Age Gothic. Palgrave Gothic. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 541-557.

This chapter demonstrates how the Theosophical tale of terror, long neglected within the critical canon of the fin de siècle Gothic, can expand our understanding of the mode’s tone, scope, and politics. It also injects into the latter category some much-needed gender diversity, for it was produced in large part by women: Mabel Collins, Florence Marryat, Mina Sandeman, “Rita” (pseudonym of Eliza Humphreys), Margaret B. Peeke, Rosa Caroline Praed, and even H.P. Blavatsky herself. As historians have long recognized, occultism and spiritualism held particular allure for female seekers in this period, offering them access to forms of authority and agency unavailable through orthodox religious institutions. The occult fiction produced by such figures is significant not only to the development of women’s heterodox spirituality, but also to that of the Female Gothic, a category which has had relatively little traction within discussions of fin de siècle horror fiction due to the latter’s traditional critical construction through an almost-exclusively male canon. By the end of the nineteenth century, female Theosophists had forged something of a fifth column within the ranks of the popular male Gothic, reversing some of its most common horror conventions to depict the non-western world as a source , not of sexual threat or imperial anxiety, but of spiritual superiority and magical authenticity.

Victorian Gothic; Occultism; Theosophy; Rosa Campbell Praed; H.P. Blavatsky; Orientalism; Feminism

Title of seriesPalgrave Gothic
Publication date31/12/2021
Publication date online04/02/2021
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Publisher URL
Place of publicationCham, Switzerland

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Professor Christine Ferguson

Professor Christine Ferguson

Professor in English, English Studies

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