Trance Speakers: Femininity and Authorship in Spiritual Séances, 1850–1930
by Claudie Massicotte
McGill-Queen’s University Press, 278 pages, $110
In Victorian society, women were seen as inherently passive. But in Trance Speakers Claudie Massicotte shows how spiritualists such as New York’s Fox sisters (Leah, Margaret, and Kate) and Canadian author Susanna Moodie used the role of medium to turn this fragility into a strength.
Massicotte asserts that the appearance of being controlled by spirits ironically allowed mediums to speak more freely, because the voices they used were not their own, and she uses this to raise a number of difficult questions about the nature of speech.
As one of the first books to examine the history of seances in Canada, Trance Speakers places the phenomenon within the context of an era that saw an increasing focus on the question of women’s proper roles as well as a greater number of women leaving the home in one way or another.
Massicotte is an assistant professor of literary theory and criticism, and her prose is sophisticated and often theoretically dense. That said, the number of fascinating figures and events that appear in her book may make it accessible enough for more casual readers, especially those who are interested in women’s history.