College of Arts and Sciences

Department of English

ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance

Laura Saltz

"The Magnetism of a Photograph: Daguerreotypy and Margaret Fuller's Conceptions of Gender and Sexuality "

This article looks at the role of magnetism in nineteenth-century discourses about photography on the one hand and about gender and sexuality on the other—and demonstrates that these discourses intersect.  Using a beloved daguerreotype portrait of Margaret Fuller’s friend Anna Loring as a touchstone, it turns to Fuller’s discussions of female magnetism in the example of the Seeress of Prevorst, as well as to the importance of magnetism in Fuller’s understanding of her own sexuality. Nineteenth-century popular and scientific discussions of magnetism’s role in the photographic process show that daguerreotypy and women’s magnetism were attributed to the same elemental force. Through magnetism, according to this essay, photography was conceived as a bridge between the visible and invisible, the material and spiritual.  Finally, the essay argues that the concept of magnetism helps historicize the female gaze and provides an alternative to Foucauldian and Freudian models of looking that undertheorize women’s vision.

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