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"She was full of evil spirits": occult influence, free will, and medical authority in the Old Bailey, c.1860-1910

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This article explores how occult and medical epistemologies intersected in late Victorian and Edwardian courtroom narratives in the Old Bailey, London's Central Court. Rather than delineating the preternatural, it argues that this meeting of the occult and medical science resulted in a blurring of the boundaries between external and internal influences, between notions of prisoner and patient, the psychical and the insane. Considering the role of the accused, victims, medical authorities, lawyers and jurors, it examines how this epistemological shift developed, and how it was presented, manipulated, or hindered. Through investigating this attempt by medical 'experts' to pathologise the occult, it offers fresh insights into how medical testimony interpreted and employed accounts of witchcraft, mesmerism, and hypnotism in courtroom narratives. It concludes by briefly drawing attention to the resonances between the operation of occult, legal and medical influences over the mind and body in the late nineteenth-century courtroom.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)310-336
Number of pages27
JournalPreternature: Critical and Historical Studies of the Preternatural
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017


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