Monstrous Voices: (Female) Speaking Automata, Mind Science and Mass Mediation in Late-Nineteenth-Century British Fiction

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Speaker: Prof Anne-Julia Zwierlein, University of Regensburg

 

The prelude to my talk sketches our ongoing DFG funded research project on ‘Lecturing Females: Oral Performances, Gender and Sensationalism in Metropolitan Lecturing Institutions and Mass Print Culture, 1860-1910’. Selecting one of the project’s central aspects, Victorian oratory and elocution and the question of vocal sound as the social-material dimension of human language, I then present a literary case study by (briefly) tracing the historical trajectory of monstrous/automatic voices in physiological psychology, sound technology, and Gothic and realist fiction from the mid-nineteenth century to the fin de siècle. Examining how in the context of the new modernity of mass mediation, sonic monstrosity (technologically or hypnotically induced) came to be theorised as a co-creation between performer, subject, and audience/readership who function as ‘sounding board’, the talk ends by revisiting some late-nineteenth-century feminist autobiographical accounts and suffrage novels/short stories which deployed representations of public speech acts as the climax of their conversion narratives. (Female) surrendered agency and mesmeric/spiritualist trance are here replaced by the performative channelling of a disembodied female collectivity, and a Gothic device – the chthonic, ghostly or automatized voice – is transformed into a vehicle of empowerment and (political) resonance.

All welcome.

 

Diseases of Modern Life

Audience: Open to all

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