“I Have No Disbelief”: Spiritualism and Secular Agency in Elizabeth Stoddard’s The Morgesons
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This essay explores the imagery of Spiritualist religion that runs through Elizabeth Stoddard’s The Morgesons, arguing that the exercise of Spiritualist gifts including clairvoyance, trance-speaking, and spirit-traveling enables the Morgeson sisters to access multiple forms of cross-gender and cross-class agency. The Morgesons has long been read as a novel of secularization that records the decline of New England Calvinist orthodoxy in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. In fact The Morgesons depicts the secular situation in the antebellum period—characterized by increasing religious diversity and new religious modalities—and explores the multiple forms of female agency made available by a secular milieu. This essay reveals how critical regimes that prioritize liberal, secularized models of agency over discursive, secular models obscure the forms of circulating and collaborative agency at play in novels by Stoddard and other women writers.