Gothic Modernisms

By Andrew Smith; Jeff Wallace | Go to book overview

3
‘Psychical’ Cases: Transformations
of the Supernatural in Virginia
Woolf and May Sinclair
David Seed

Virginia Woolf and May Sinclair redefine the real through the processes identified by the new Freudian psychology. For Woolf and Sinclair the self was perceived as the site for conflicting desires where only the topmost layer of psychic activity was conscious. Both writers privilege the perceiving self over the given data of reality and both were drawn to psychical research as a means of criticising contemporary materialism and also as a medium for promoting the emerging discipline of psychology. The supernatural was therefore not a marginal concern for Woolf or Sinclair but was central to their attempts to relocate the importance of the mind. Edith Birkhead's declaration in 1921 would have been congenial to both novelists, that ‘the future of the tale of terror it is impossible to predict; but the experiments of living authors, who continually find new outlets with the advance of science and of psychological enquiry, suffice to prove that its powers are not yet exhausted’. 1

George M. Johnson has convincingly demonstrated that Woolf assimilated the new version of the mind promoted by this second-wave psychology as ‘psychic energy in continual motion’ and argued that from 1909 onwards she was aware of psychical research partly through the mediation of her father's interests. 2 Johnson stresses that psychical research and the promotion of new psychological theories went hand in hand in the pages of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Researchwhich combined detailed reports on cases of mediumship, thought transference and related subjects with some of the earliest publications in English of articles by Janet and Freud. A new view of mental life was proposed as early as 1891 by F. W. H. Myers whose concept of the ‘subliminal consciousness’ spatially extended the workings of the mind

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