Spiritualism – the belief that the living could contact the dead – surged into England from America in 1852–53. One of the most popular means of communication was ‘table turning’, or ‘table moving’: a group of people would sit round a table, their hands placed palms down on the table top, after which (so believers claim) the table would rise and move around as if controlled by unseen hands.
This book, published in at the height of the spiritualist boom, contains dramatic illustrations and accounts of the phenomenon, complete with instructions on how the reader can reproduce them. It rejects any idea of ‘spirit rapping’ – contact with the deceased – as trickery, but credits the lifting effect to ‘animal magnetism’.
This supposed invisible force that could influence physical objects was proposed by the German Franz Mesmer (1734–1815), and suggested as the source of table-moving by the English physician John Elliotson (1791–1868).
Prominent Victorians who subscribed to spiritualist beliefs included the pioneer evolutionist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913) and the author Arthur Conan Doyle (1859–1930). Firm sceptics included the scientist and experimenter Michael Faraday (1791–1867), who wrote against the spiritualist craze in 1853, and whose experiments helped in the discovery and later scientific understanding of a genuine ‘invisible force’, electromagnetic radiation.
- Article by:
- Roger Luckhurst
- The Gothic
Roger Luckhurst challenges the idea of the 19th century as one of secularisation, exploring the popularity of mesmerism, spiritualism and 'true' ghost stories in the period.
- Article by:
- John Mullan
- London, The novel 1832–1880, The Gothic
The ghosts in A Christmas Carol are by turns comic, grotesque and allegorical. Professor John Mullan reflects on their essential role in developing the novel’s meaning and structure.