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Mesmerized Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain cover
  • ISBN: 9780226902197
  • ISBN10: 0226902196

Mesmerized Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain

by Alison Winter

  • List Price: $32.00
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Publisher: Univ of Chicago Pr
  • Publish date: 12/01/1998
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Description
In castles and cottages, rectories and pubs, hospitals, lecture halls and churches across Victorian Britain, thousands of women and hundreds of men were mesmerized. Apparently reasonable human beings twisted into bizarre postures, called out in unknown languages, and placidly bore assaults that should have caused unbearable pain. The Victorians were literally entranced with this phenomenon.

Alison Winter's cultural history focuses on mesmerism: who was entranced, who did the entrancing, why mesmerism was such a compelling experience to so many, and how it became equally powerful evidence of fraud and "unscientific" behavior to many others. Her account traces the history of mesmerism as it moved through Victorian society, making Mesmerized both a social history of the age and a lively exploration of the contested territory between science and pseudoscience. Winter illuminates dark areas of the relationship between science and society, allowing us to assess the role of authority in particular social contexts: who draws the line between the bogus and the authentic, and how is the boundary maintained? More fundamentally, what is the nature of the power that leaders wield, and the influences that bind humans together into a social body? Her fascinating and piquant history of mesmerism explores these questions through a compelling recreation of Victorian life.

Like the Victorians, we live in an age in which "scientific" is not always a term that conveys the weight and reassurance of authority. The questions raised in Victorian society by mesmerism are the same we are struggling with now: where does authority reside? How is it contested, compromised, and finally conferred?

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