Published online by Cambridge University Press: 30 October 2020
This chapter analyzes the Victorian figure of the female medium as another embodiment of wayward reading. In both nonfictional and fictional portrayals of telepathy, or “brain-reading,” female mediums represent a model of identification that is neither passive nor manipulative but defensive. This model also provides a corrective to recent popular accounts of scientific studies that conflate enhanced Theory of Mind (the ability to recognize and interpret the beliefs and emotional states of other people) with actual compassion as an effect of reading literature. Though mediums sometimes represented their ability to communicate with dead and distant minds as an unwanted gift, accounts of spiritualism depict telepathy as directed and purposeful, and not always sympathetic. In her memoir novelist and actress Florence Marryat recounts using clairvoyance in order to understand the disposition and plans of both declared and secret enemies. Mina, the heroine of Dracula (1897), can reverse the direction of mind-reading between herself and the villainous Count, and use her access to his perspective to help defeat him. The feminized type of the Victorian medium deploys her stereotypical sensitivity not always as an effusion of beneficent feeling but as a social strategy to protect herself from predatory and intrusive others.