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The New PrometheansFaith, Science, and the Supernatural Mind in the Victorian Fin de Siécle$
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Courtenay Raia

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226635217

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226635491.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 27 May 2022

William Crookes in Wonderland

William Crookes in Wonderland

Scientific Spiritualism and the Physics of the Impossible

(p.45) Chapter Two William Crookes in Wonderland
(p.iii) The New Prometheans

Courtenay Raia

University of Chicago Press

More than any other scientist of his day, Sir William Crookes's career traversed the spectrum of science’s many cultural localities. He was at once a poster boy of vocational science, a ringmaster of scientific spiritualism, a pioneer of the commercial scientific press, a national celebrity, and a professional disgrace who eventually raised himself up to rule the institutions that once held him down - and all the while hobbled by what would appear to have been an act of career suicide: his notorious promenade with the ghost of Katie King “immortalized” in his own spirit photography. Or is this episode better understood as a brilliant career gambit gone wrong? The recent report of the London Dialectical Society had left the country hanging. As of 1874, the im/possibility of “scientific spiritualism” had yet to be clarified, even for intellectuals. Crookes decided the question with his own spectacular downfall. Yet, by the end of the decade, his scientific reputation rose to new heights with the gasses glowing in his Crookes tube. “Radiant matter” was fully scientific, yet it subtly affirmed a spiritual substance. Crookes's discovery was so celebrated by physicists that William Carpenter accused them of having their own “dangerous theological prepossessions.”

Keywords:   William Crookes, Katie King, London Dialectical Society, Florence Cook, spirit photography, popularization of science, physics in the nineteenth century, spiritualism in the nineteenth century, culture wars, Victorian supernatural

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