Spectral Objecthood: Biology, Assembly, and the Ghostly Body in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Popular Fiction

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Young, Lindsay
ghost fiction , commodity culture , 19th-century science , victorian literature
This dissertation examines two intersecting historical influences on Victorian supernatural fiction: commodity-driven cultures of object production and exchange, and discourses of nineteenth-century biological sciences. I argue that the appropriation of commodity-oriented and scientific languages in occult fiction and non-fiction coincided with a mass cultural shift in thought with regard to the soul, what it was made of in a material sense, and by extension, how it functioned. Authors were more and more drawn to spectral imageries that involved disassembly, reorientations of function, and fluid materiality that imagined the soul as something more readily preserved and made readable through material objects. As a result of Victorian commodity culture and professionalized science, depictions of spiritual and emotional transformations were more readily and complexly visualized as material exchanges that imbued the symbols of industrial and commodity-driven life with new relevance for ethical, spiritual life in the nineteenth century. Examining both the figure of the ghost as a site where boundaries between material and immaterial are often necessarily reinterpreted, and more abstract representations of the materialized soul such as the haunted portrait of Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, this dissertation examines how supernatural fiction facilitated conversations pertaining to the adaptation of industrial and scientific life into a new imagined realm of ‘modern’ spiritual existence.
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