Of Planchettes and Pickets: Spiritualism, the New Woman, and Modernism in Literature from 1880-1920

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)


Literature and Languages

Date of Award

Spring 2016


This dissertation is a study of the overlap between the spiritualist movement and women’s rights movements from 1880-1920 in the United States, and the ways in which literary modernism was used to uphold or invalidate both movements and the women involved in them. This project functions in two spheres of discourse: serialized novels and nonfiction. The novels are Henry James’s The Bostonians and the composite novel The Whole Family, featuring William Dean Howells, Henry James, Elizabeth Jordan, and nine other authors. The nonfiction portion of the study examines articles from the magazines Puck and Life as well as printed ephemera like placards, posters, and cards. Using a feminist and cultural studies approach, I argue that modernism was actively used both to promote the causes of women’s equality and the validity of the spiritualist movement, as well as to suppress them, using specifically gendered rhetoric and devices, namely the constructed identities of New Women and spinsters.


Karen Roggenkamp

Subject Categories

Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies