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Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Mesmer and His Legacy: Literature, Culture, and Science

Gray, Lesley Frances (2018) Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Mesmer and His Legacy: Literature, Culture, and Science. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:73400)

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Abstract

The second half of the eighteenth century saw the emergence of Franz Anton Mesmer's theories and therapies concerning the curative power of animal magnetism, an innate force that he claimed could be harnessed and directed to great healing effect. Formally dismissed by a French Royal Commission in 1784, the many positive treatment outcomes were attributed to the patient's own imagination. This acknowledgement by the scientific fraternity that imagination alone could effect cures signalled that Mesmer's work had uncovered new, exciting and even dangerous possibilities about the power of the mind. Always a controversial subject, those who chose to examine animal magnetism, or its later incarnations of mesmerism or hypnosis, were always at risk of social and professional criticism, even disgrace and exclusion, which raises the question of how and why respected members of the social and scientific community would approach this multifarious topic.

By selecting as case studies three previously neglected figures in the mesmerism scholarship, namely, Ada Lovelace and two physician-writers, Santiago Ramón y Cajal and Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as incorporating a cutting-edge discussion of Mesmer's life, 'art', and complicated relationship with the scientific community, this thesis offers new perspectives through which to re-examine the complex phenomenon of mesmerism, its possible medical applicability, and the manifold literary representations it elicited. Drawing upon archival sources, scientific texts, letters, non-fictional and fictional works, this interdisciplinary study combines close textual analysis with an examination of scientific, social and cultural contexts. Through this pluralistic critical approach, and by seeking to understand the endurance of what may now be considered a protoscience rather than a pseudoscience, the thesis concludes that while Mesmer's work paved the way for a serious research into the constructs of the mind, the qualities of vision, observation and communication are essential to the re-evaluation of new ideas and their interpretation.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Novillo-Corvalán, Patricia
Uncontrolled keywords: Interdisciplinary Mesmer Literature Culture Science Medical-Humanities Mesmerism Hypnotism Medicine Lovelace Conan-Doyle Cajal Protoscience
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 08 Apr 2019 08:10 UTC
Last Modified: 20 May 2021 13:26 UTC
Resource URI: https://kar.kent.ac.uk/id/eprint/73400 (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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