Kissing the Medium: The Spiritualist-Witch as Countercultural Heroine in The Thirty-Nine Steps (1959)
© 2017 Brill / Rodopi
Reason for embargo
Under embargo until 1 June 2019 in compliance with publisher policy
The chapter focuses on the 1959 film The Thirty-Nine Steps, its detective figure Richard Hannay and its medium- or witch-figure Nellie Lumsden. Noting the unusual collaboration between two character types normally opposed in Victorian and post-Victorian fiction, it argues that in the 1950s the character of the medium began to be seen in a new light. Following a change in the law in 1951, mediums were no longer being prosecuted under anti-witchcraft legislation by 1959 and it was recognised that such a definition of their practices was unhelpful. Accordingly, Nellie Lumsden offers a model for contemporary and future understandings of mediums, pagans and witches in positive lights, whilst correspondingly detectives suffered a diminution in authority and respect. Further examples include the novel Ritual (1967) and the film The Wicker Man (1973), although counter examples such as the film Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) also exist. The Thirty-Nine Steps, however, presents a near-perfect inversion of expected stereotypes of medium and detective, suggesting the reworking and challenging of Victorian ideas in mid-twentieth century Britain. These ideas include racial and national stereotypes of “Celtic” areas of Britain, as well as expectations of gender, class, authority, reason and faith.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Brill via the ISBN in this record
In: Neo-Victorian Villains - Adaptations and Transformations in Popular Culture, edited by Benjamin Poore, pp. 143-160