Paper $27.50 ISBN: 9780226532332 Will Publish March 2018
Cloth $82.50 ISBN: 9780226532165 Will Publish March 2018
E-book $27.50 Available for pre-order. ISBN: 9780226532479 Will Publish March 2018

Credulity

A Cultural History of US Mesmerism

Emily Ogden

Credulity

Emily Ogden

272 pages | 10 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018
Paper $27.50 ISBN: 9780226532332 Will Publish March 2018
Cloth $82.50 ISBN: 9780226532165 Will Publish March 2018
E-book $27.50 ISBN: 9780226532479 Will Publish March 2018
From the 1830s to the Civil War, Americans could be found putting each other into trances for fun and profit in parlors, on stage, and in medical consulting rooms. They were performing mesmerism. Surprisingly central to literature and culture of the period, mesmerism embraced a variety of phenomena, including mind control, spirit travel, and clairvoyance. Although it had been debunked by Benjamin Franklin in late eighteenth-century France, the practice nonetheless enjoyed a decades-long resurgence in the United States. Emily Ogden here offers the first comprehensive account of those boom years.
 
Credulity tells the fascinating story of mesmerism’s spread from the plantations of the French Antilles to the textile factory cities of 1830s New England. As it proliferated along the Eastern seaboard, this occult movement attracted attention from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s circle and ignited the nineteenth-century equivalent of flame wars in the major newspapers. But mesmerism was not simply the last gasp of magic in modern times. Far from being magicians themselves, mesmerists claimed to provide the first rational means of manipulating the credulous human tendencies that had underwritten past superstitions. Now, rather than propping up the powers of oracles and false gods, these tendencies served modern ends such as labor supervision, education, and mediated communication. Neither an atavistic throwback nor a radical alternative, mesmerism was part and parcel of the modern. Credulity offers us a new way of understanding the place of enchantment in secularizing America.
Review Quotes
Benjamin Reiss, Emory University
“Ogden’s analysis is full of surprises: strange tales culled from the archives, poignant accounts of the lives of mesmerized clairvoyants, and electrical flashes of insight into the relations between secular rationalism and the occult. As Ogden waves her wand over the period, she reanimates a number of antebellum classics, including Melville’s Moby-Dick, Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance, Poe’s 'Tale of the Ragged Mountains,' and Emerson’s 'Experience.' Credulity is one of the best books in American cultural studies I’ve read in years.”
Jennifer Fleissner, Indiana University, Bloomington
“Marshaling a truly astonishing array of firsthand research, Ogden’s wonderful Credulity provides the first full-scale history of the fascinating phenomenon of mesmerism in the United States.  Ogden not only offers elegant and innovative readings of major nineteenth-century novels and unjustly neglected works alike, but reframes some of the most hotly contested questions in contemporary scholarship: the status of modernity as a 'secular age,' the fate within it of ‘enchantment,' and the idealization of agency. Credulity is an enormously exciting book argued with great verve, clarity, and finesse.”
Tracy Fessenden, Arizona State University
"What fine, fierce intelligence is here: with the deftest command of archival, literary, and theoretical sources and diamond-cut clarity of prose, Emily Ogden brings enchantment into view as a transaction by which the credulity of some ensures the modernity of others.  A tool and not the vanquished other of enlightenment, the discourse of enchantment helped Americans who 'aimed at modernity' to negotiate the place of fiction, the management and monetization of labor, the conduct of colonialism, the care and company of the disabled, and the demands of secular agency. If I had a single book to recommend to students of nineteenth-century American culture, or to all who take pleasure in exquisite reading and writing, Credulity would be it."
For more information, or to order this book, please visit http://www.press.uchicago.edu
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