Provides a rhetorical analysis of female spirit mediums’ autobiographies in the historical and social contexts of Victorian-era America. Invisible Hosts explores how the central tenets of Spiritualism influenced ways in which women conceived of their bodies and their civic responsibilities, arguing that Spiritualist ideologies helped to lay the foundation for the social and political advances made by women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As public figures, female spirit mediums of the Victorian era were often accused of unfeminine (and therefore transgressive) behavior. A rhetorical analysis of nineteenth-century spirit mediums’ autobiographies reveals how these women convinced readers of their authenticity both as respectable women and as psychics. The author argues that these women’s autobiographies reflect an attempt to emulate feminine virtues even as their interpretation and performance of these virtues helped to transform prevailing gender stereotypes. She demonstrates that the social performance central to the production of women’s autobiography is uniquely complicated by Spiritualist ideology. Such complications reveal new information about how women represented themselves, gained agency, and renegotiated nineteenth-century gender roles.
About the author
Elizabeth Schleber Lowry is Lecturer in Rhetoric and Composition at Arizona State University.
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