Of Mahatmas and Chelas: Theosophy and the “Cartography of the Supernatural” in Richard Marsh and F. Anstey

Bhattacharjee, Shuhita (2019) Of Mahatmas and Chelas: Theosophy and the “Cartography of the Supernatural” in Richard Marsh and F. Anstey. Victorian Popular Fictions Journal, 1 (2). pp. 147-163.

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The essay examines the way F. Anstey’s A Fallen Idol (1886) and Richard Marsh’s The Mahatma’s Pupil (1893) dramatise the relationship between a Tibetan Theosophical mahatma and a western disciple through the use of cartographic imagery that ultimately subverts colonial hierarchies and exposes western religious anxieties. The novels are characterised by a ”cartography of the supernatural” that derives from nineteenth-century scientific and occult ideas of spatiality, that is, both from new fin-de-siècle communication technologies connecting the mainland with colonies, and from the contemporary radical theorisation of occult communication between the east and the west. I argue that the novels effect a radical socio-political restructuration by building on this underlying cartographic imaginary to achieve subversive spatial re-mappings for a western audience. A crucial aspect of this narrative manoeuvre can be seen in the way the novels establish a parallel between the disciple’s spatial bafflement surrounding the geographical remoteness of Theosophy and the western failure at grasping the spiritual depths of this colonial faith. The novels therefore ultimately offer a commentary on the desiccated state of western religiosity and the alternative templates of the miraculous offered by the colonial occult.

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IITH Creators:
IITH CreatorsORCiD
Bhattacharjee, Shuhitahttps://orcid.org/0000-0001-9289-3157
Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Theosophy ,Cartography,Supernatural
Subjects: Arts > Liberal arts
Divisions: Department of Liberal Arts
Depositing User: . LibTrainee 2021
Date Deposited: 15 Sep 2022 09:27
Last Modified: 15 Sep 2022 09:27
URI: http://raiith.iith.ac.in/id/eprint/10583
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