Of Mahatmas and Chelas:
Theosophy and the “Cartography of the Supernatural” in Richard Marsh and F. Anstey
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.
occult; Theosophy; Richard Marsh; F. Anstey; cartography of the supernatural; communication technology.
Date of Acceptance: 23 December 2019
Date of Publication: 31 December 2019
Double Blind Peer Reviewed
Shuhita Bhattacharjee . 2019. “Of Mahatmas and Chelas: Theosophy and the ‘Cartography of the Supernatural’ in Richard Marsh and F. Anstey.” Victorian Popular Fictions, 1.2: 147-163. ISSN: 2632-4253. https://victorianpopularfiction.org/publications/1200-2/victorian-popular-fictions-volume-1-issue-2-autumn-2019/victorian-popular-fictions-journal-1-2-article-11/
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