Other Worlds: Alfred Russel Wallace and the Cross-Cultures of Spiritualism



Ferguson C (2015) Other Worlds: Alfred Russel Wallace and the Cross-Cultures of Spiritualism. Victorian Review, 41 (2), pp. 177-191.

First paragraph: In the spring of the great revolutionary year of 1848, a twenty-five-year-old Alfred Russel Wallace was preparing to set out on the ethnographically unprecedented four-year expedition through the Amazon Basin that would launch his international career as a naturalist and lay the foundations for his co-theorization of natural selection with Charles Darwin. Thousands of miles to the north, an epoch-defining incident of equal significance for Wallace’s thought was underway in the tiny and now no-longer-existent hamlet of Hydesville, New York. Here, in late March, the young mediums Kate and Maggie Fox started to receive—or simulate—the rapped spirit messages from the other world that would electrify northeastern America’s communities and initiate the Anglo-American spiritualist movement in which Wallace was later to become such a major player. Wallace recalled first hearing reports of the phenomena during his bio-ethnographical tours of the global South in the 1850s and dismissing them as “too wild and too outré to be anything but the ravings of madmen” (276).1 Indeed, it was not until 1865, when back in London and able to witness mediated spirit contact—or, at least, its Western incarnation—first hand, that Wallace would personally and then publically embrace the new faith, a move that provoked considerable controversy and derision within the newly professionalized ranks of Britain’s scientific naturalist elite.

Victorian Review: Volume 41, Issue 2

Publication date31/10/2015
Publication date online2016

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Professor Christine Ferguson

Professor Christine Ferguson

Professor in English, English Studies