Visions of Travel: Paranormal Arctic Exploration, the Franklin Search Expeditions and The Frozen Deep

by Giulia Hoffmann, PhD
University of California, San Diego
I accompanied my Aunt & Mr Majendie to the home of Mr Hands in the street Grosvener Square by appointment at 8 o’clock in the evening to see and consult the clairvoyante Ellen Dawson … a very diminutive young girl.... I found her talking, and she got up when I went in, & asked me to sit by her on the sofa which I did. I said “where have you been this evening?” “A long way” she replied “on the sea and into the ice.” I said “that is where I want to go, and we will travel together.”
--Sophia Cracroft, unpublished letter to mother and sisters, 28 May 1849
Amid nineteenth-century commissioned accounts of Arctic exploration written by voyagers attempting to chart a passage through its inhospitable frontier, numerous alternative visions of the terrain appeared. The diverse assortment of polar travel narratives, many of which were published as collected journals and featured in national periodicals, played a substantial role in the formation of Britons’ conceptions about the Arctic. Among the most remarkable are accounts such as Ellen Dawson’s, recounted in Sophia Cracroft’s letters, of psychic travel through the frozen seas. These visions coalesced around the disappearance of the expedition commanded by Sir John Franklin three years after setting sail in 1845, a mystery that garnered national attention and inspired multiple search missions. Emerging in the context of the British obsession with the exploration and mapping of one of the last unknown frontiers, clairvoyants’ statements circulated widely in the periodical press and popular literature as well as visual media throughout the era. These descriptions of clairvoyant travel problematized unquestioned reliance upon the information obtained by male voyagers, gradually transforming the ideological terrain of the Arctic into an imagined space where scientific and supernatural knowledge might coexist.
            Wilkie Collins’s and Charles Dickens’s collaborative work The Frozen Deep, a melodrama inspired by the Franklin disaster, represents the divergent public responses to clairvoyants’ intervention in imperialist discourses and their destabilization of the boundary between empirical science and paranormality. Featuring a clairvoyant who prophesizes a shipwreck in the Arctic seas, the plot revolves around her visions of the deadly consequences of a rivalry between two of the seamen for the love of an Englishwoman awaiting the voyage’s return. Indicative of the multifarious fictional and non-fictional representations of female clairvoyants, The Frozen Deep’s complex history of multiple revisions encompasses varying genres, including the jointly-authored 1857 dramatic production, the performance of Collins’s revised script in 1866, and his publication of it in the form of a novella in 1874 based on a public reading he gave of it in America.[i] The repeatedly altered texts attracted considerable popular attention, each edition renewing the public’s interest in the search for Franklin. Together, they exemplify the development of the cultural responses during this time to Spiritualists’ provocative claims about clairvoyance and other supernatural phenomena. While the text’s earlier versions locate the psychic knowledge within a marginalized Scottish nursemaid, later revisions transfer it to the middle-class Englishwoman who embodies the play’s dramatic force. Achieving major exposure during its performances and publications, The Frozen Deep’s shifting portraits of the female psychic thus illustrate the increasingly central role women’s clairvoyant narratives played in shaping imperialist and scientific discourses in nineteenth-century Britain.
            While historians and critics, including Ralph Lloyd-Jones and W. Gillies Ross, have drawn attention to such narratives, there has been little consideration of their role in ideological constructions of exploration in scientific literature, the popular press, and works of fiction. Tantalizingly available to claims of possession and particularly desirable for its potential use as a conduit for increased European trade with Asia, the Arctic appeared as a seemingly blank expanse within which naval explorers could establish Britain’s claims to imperial possession.[ii] Fictional representations as well as non-fictional claims of paranormal travel to the North Pole, an area where women were forbidden, critically intervened in the extensive body of literature concerning polar exploration as well as emerging visual technologies that crucially shaped popular conceptions of the Arctic. Circulating during a time of immense popular support for Spiritualist beliefs, thus diminishing the potential for these claims of psychic travel to be easily dismissed, this material engages but also transforms the models of travel writing articulated by Bruno Latour and Mary Louise Pratt. These narratives echoed discourses of conventional travel while also expanding them to include multifaceted accounts from unlikely participants.
Through their unorthodox travel narratives, clairvoyants paradoxically reproduced common imperialist practices of surveying and circulating privileged information about a new territory and its native inhabitants, while at the same time challenging empirical methodologies of attaining this knowledge. Representing a diverse array of women of varying ages, national identities, and class status, these mediums undermined constructions of the Arctic as a British domain that could only be accessed by elite male explorers. Throughout an era in which Victorians became increasingly anxious about the project of empire, women’s visions of paranormal exploration indicated a powerful and potentially threatening engagement with imperialism as they were gradually incorporated into public discourses on British national identity. The Frozen Deep’s manifold incarnations signal a conflicted response to clairvoyants’ narratives, one that is emblematic of the shifting and heterogeneous cultural response to women’s involvement in British imperial knowledge production.
“I See the Vessel Sir John Franklin Is In”: Clairvoyant Travel Narratives
              The disappearance of the Erebus and Terror, the ships led by Franklin on his third and ultimately final voyage to the Arctic, sparked intense public interest in discovering the men's fate. Lauded as one of the nation’s greatest explorers for his contributions to British cartography and navigation, Franklin had earned renown for leading expeditions in 1819 and 1825 to discover the Northwest Passage. This series of attempts by Franklin and numerous others in the early to mid-nineteenth century to explore this region helped forge an ideological construction of the Arctic as a space potentially open to British imperial possession. Exemplifying Latour’s theorization that such domination arises from the establishment of paths through which to efficiently and repeatedly transport artifacts to the imperial center, the expeditions disseminated a steady flow of information from the Arctic into Britain through a diverse spectrum of works that constructed complex and multifaceted representations of the territory (224). Although the Admiralty had established guidelines for explorers’ commissioned travel narratives encouraging the objective reporting of empirical observations, scholars including Erika Behrisch have established that the array of literature emerging from Arctic expeditions was much more expansive and included a range of poetic and philosophical works; many of them consisted of explorers’ private reflections upon their experiences of polar travel.[iii] And as Adriana Craciun explains, nineteenth-century theories about the Arctic were varied and often contradictory: fantasies of the icy region containing abundant resources intermingled with fears that the harsh landscape would thwart any attempts of European colonization (695). Amid such uncertainty, explorers including Franklin embarked on repeated voyages with the aim of establishing a highly desirable passage through a terrain that posed perhaps more significant challenges than other colonial territories, yet offered the potential for even greater rewards.
            The unusual involvement by Franklin’s wife, Jane, in organizing search missions for her husband further complicated conventional models of imperial exploration.[iv] While prohibited from physically traveling to the region as she had to other faraway territories such as Tasmania, Lady Jane funded several expeditions to the Arctic in the hopes that her husband’s ships would be located (Russell, “Wife Stories” 40, 43). Lady Jane’s direct contributions to these plans effectively challenged the idea of travel abroad, and particularly exploration of the Arctic, as an exclusively masculine domain. However, her involvement also irritated those in the upper echelons of the Admiralty, placing her in a precarious position as she built a carefully-constructed public image as a suffering wife who was at the mercy of male officials in charge of the government-funded searches. During this time, several spirit mediums contacted Lady Jane and her niece, Sophia Cracroft, and described their visions of Franklin’s ships, and the two privately consulted with a few of the clairvoyants for more specific guidance about the voyagers’ whereabouts. At the same time as Lady Jane’s participation in planning the official expeditions was unsettling gendered conceptions of imperial travel, these consultations also disrupted established boundaries between scientific and pseudoscientific investigations.
            As the Admiralty dispatched one search mission after another, sensational reports of potential sightings appeared in the national and local periodical press, with dozens of women participating at a distance by circulating narratives of their own psychical expeditions in search of the Erebus and Terror. Similar feats of extrasensory perception had also been reported decades earlier, with one clairvoyant even revealing Franklin’s whereabouts during an expedition in 1831[v]. Yet the immense publicity prompted by his disappearance, along with its occurrence during the rise of Spiritualism in England and America in the mid-nineteenth century, led to renewed public interest in such testimonies. The widely-distributed narratives blurred the boundaries between the public sphere of scientific exploration and the private sphere of women’s imagined journeys, offering an important distinction from women’s sanctioned vicarious experiences of travel that they achieved through reading popular accounts of men’s voyages. Rather than obtaining their insights secondhand in what Francis Spufford and Jen Hill characterize as imagined travel, clairvoyants experienced visions they claimed gave them direct access to this otherwise forbidden land, thereby occupying a central place in their accounts of psychic exploration of the Arctic. In reporting their experiences, these women reimagined the possibilities for polar exploration, presenting a model of paranormal travel that shaped the complex and shifting portrait of the Arctic constructed in popular as well as officially-sanctioned accounts.
            Clairvoyants’ vivid descriptions of the icy terrain coincided with the widespread fascination in Britain and America with emerging forms of visual technologies, and particularly with moving panoramas. In 1850, the surge in popularity of panoramas united with the increasing public interest in Franklin’s fate, as several displays of moving panoramas depicting images of the Arctic debuted in theaters throughout London in that year (Potter 5, 85-90). Attracting large audiences across a broad spectrum of society, these panoramas as well as several other visual displays such as magic lantern shows and photographic slides became crucial to the dissemination of polar exploration in popular culture.  Clairvoyants’ mental impressions of the sublime Arctic landscape engaged this interest in visual technologies, their dramatic descriptions of panoramic visions constructing virtual tableaux for their audiences. At the same time, their visions expanded the possibilities for how women could view the Arctic firsthand: while exhibitions of popular artwork depicting the Arctic circulated widely throughout Britain, these images were largely based upon explorers’ accounts and photographs of their travels. In directly conjuring their visions, clairvoyants therefore intervened in conceptions about polar exploration and popular visual culture, offering an alternative method of visualizing distant territories.
            Such conceptual journeys featured a method of exploration that provided a means for the women to circumvent the physical impediments travel to the Arctic presented. Amid accounts of male voyagers dying of exposure and starvation as they confronted the treacherous ice, these paranormal explorers resisted such embodiment through their mental travel, which they represented as a more powerful and successful way of obtaining information about the poles and about the shipwrecked men themselves. Illustrating the way clairvoyants helped reappropriate the Arctic as conceptually accessible to women, Ellen Dawson reported to have psychically traveled to the Arctic, meeting with Franklin’s ships along the way. The first clairvoyant Lady Jane and Sophia Cracroft consulted four years after Franklin had set sail, she spoke of having located a “ship in the ice” carrying “several gentlemen” whom she described in detail (MS 248/267/1). Her account of this paranormal expedition provided an even more radical and direct intervention in constructions of Arctic exploration than Lady Jane’s organization and funding of search missions, as her psychic journey to the region was unimpeded by gendered restrictions. 
            Dawson’s supernormal perception also supplied her with an understanding of subjects such as geography and cartography that were traditionally off-limits to women, particularly those of her social standing. Although professing to know “nothing at all” about reading a map, Dawson proceeded to describe Franklin’s ship as being “nearer to the west, much nearer” in her consultation with Cracroft, and warned that although there is an entrance to the North Pole, “he [Franklin] cannot get out unless he is helped.” Her psychic journey to the Arctic gave her the means of conceptualizing the territory and the ships’ location within it, prompting her to advise Cracroft that the Admiralty should immediately send a search expedition, for “if they had help they would get out, they would break away the ice, & let the ships out into the water beyond, for there is water beyond” (MS 248-267/2). Dawson’s engagement with geographical knowledge in her reports of her visions of the Franklin voyage thus challenged notions about the process of gathering firsthand information about distant lands as an endeavor reserved for wealthy and educated British men.
             Dawson’s psychic expeditions to a region female travelers could not even entertain the possibility of seeing firsthand are as remarkable as the way she conducted her consultations with Lady Jane and Cracroft. Young and working-class, she embodied desirable features in a mesmeric subject, as they were thought to indicate that her mind was a “tabula rasa, a mental snowfield,” as Spufford explains: accordingly, “she could have no opinion about Franklin’s whereabouts, and therefore the steady movement of her finger on the map indicated the working of an inexplicable power” (133).[vi] Yet from the moment her two upper-class patrons arrived, she clearly maintained control over the ceremony of the consultation. Being placed into a trance by her male mesmerist, she underwent a procedure that seemed to allow him to “transform a conscious individual into a living marionette” (Winter 2-3). However, as in many such mesmeric experiments, the clairvoyant subject here instead came to direct her captivated audience, who now wholly depended on her otherworldly insight for the knowledge they sought. Dawson chose who would be allowed to participate in her clairvoyant sitting; while she insisted that Sophia Cracroft serve as the one who would ask her questions about her visions, she also asked not to speak to Lady Jane directly, for fear of upsetting the grieving wife with bad news. With the quite formidable Lady Jane sitting in the next room instead of directing the psychic journey, Dawson explained to Cracroft that she could see that the men on the lost voyage were all right, but that she was “sure she [Lady Jane] could not bear to hear me talk as I do to you.” On a subsequent consultation several months later, during which Dawson similarly refused to meet with Lady Jane, she further disturbed class boundaries by expressing her sympathy for Lady Jane to Cracroft, lamenting, “I pity her so – poor thing…” (MS 248/267/2). Clearly at ease in directing the consultation regardless of her inferior class status, Dawson exemplified in this scene how mesmeric subjects could undermine codes of acceptable behavior for women.
            In a similar fashion, a variety of other women came forward with the revelations they had obtained while under a mesmeric trance, with many of their mesmerists maintaining close ties to medical institutes and the British navy or military (Ross 7). Taking advantage of these associations, the women had their mesmerists facilitate their relationship with authoritative societies, thereby establishing a network of communication between disparate forms of knowledge. The attendance of Ashurst Majendie, Jane Franklin’s brother-in-law and Cracroft’s uncle, at the family’s consultations with Ellen Dawson demonstrated such a collaborative relationship. A former Assistant Poor Law Commissioner and one of the original members of the Royal Geographical Society, Majendie also appeared to have been professionally linked to Dawson’s mesmerist, Mr. Hands. Ross writes that Majendie may well have been the one who introduced Lady Jane to Hands and Dawson, and Cracroft’s letter indicates his familiarity with mesmeric consultations, as he followed Hands and Dawson alone into the consulting room and was the first of the group to meet with her (Ross 3, Cracroft MS/248/267/1). Through her association with Hands, Dawson thus exploited her professional connections to circulate her visions, in the process demonstrating the interdependence between empirical disciplines and paranormal knowledge.
Although few clairvoyants met with Lady Franklin as Dawson did, several participated indirectly in the quest to solve the mystery of Franklin’s disappearance and were privy to information that their lower-class status and gender otherwise precluded them from obtaining. In one instance, Emma L., a domestic servant in the employ of a mesmerist and physician in Bolton, gained access to privileged information possessed by the British government as a result of her mesmerist, Joseph Haddock, having a contact in the navy. This acquaintance, Captain Alexander Maconochie, thereby served to mediate between the two parties, transmitting between them information obtained from the official missions led by scientists and the Admiralty, in addition to circulating descriptions of the decidedly unofficial psychic visions. As noted in an article published in The Spirit of the Age, Emma L. was “uninstructed, and unable to read and write,” but could indicate the location of her psychic travel by pointing to it on a map (“Mesmeric Announcement” 303). While never in a position to directly correspond with the Admiralty, she was interviewed by the press about her visions, providing an estimate of when Franklin would return home and “describ[ing] the person of Sir John Franklin.” Her visions also situated her alongside one of the Admiralty’s official searches, as she is reported to have “visited Sir John Ross’s ships, and says that they are frozen into the ice and that he can’t turn his ship round.”
            Significantly, the Admiralty initially allowed Emma L. unprecedented access to its archive of materials related to their searches, providing her with maps of the polar regions, letters written by Franklin and other officers on the Erebus and Terror, and other news they had attained through rescue missions (Ross 5). In an indication of the ways her intervention helped lay the groundwork for the mixture of the public and private within the government-sanctioned searches, they also sent her a lock of Franklin’s hair, which Ross notes was likely given to the Admiralty by Lady Jane, providing Emma L. with an intimate relic in the hopes of inspiring her powers of clairvoyance (5). While her visions were ultimately dismissed by this council, Emma L.’s supernatural insight interrupted the Admiralty’s focus on the information gathered by male explorers during the time they spent considering a “travel” narrative that otherwise would never have caught their notice.
            In effect, clairvoyants like Ellen Dawson and Emma L. created an imagined terrain of polar exploration, expanding the scope of travel narratives to include their paranormal investigations of the region. Through their unique visions, this assortment of clairvoyants provided conflicting, often unreliable, yet certainly compelling accounts obtained through a “gift” usually dismissed by scientists at the same time that the Victorian public was becoming increasingly interested in it. Seemingly aware of the unorthodox search committee that had begun flooding newspapers with reports about the Arctic, one clairvoyant named Jenny, a domestic servant from Scotland, noted she wasn’t alone on her psychic travels to the Arctic. When asked during her trance whether she had passed other travelers along her route, she replied that she had “passed one woman going” on her own journey to the Arctic and they had conversed briefly: “she told me she was from London, and I said I was from Liverpool. She is away after him (Sir J. Franklin)” (“Clairvoyant Expedition” 4). Her statement reveals how these women’s paranormal journeys to the Arctic situated them among a community of fellow travelers with various backgrounds, each of their voices contributing to a complex and continually changing body of literature about polar travel.
            Although clairvoyants like Jenny had a vested interest in contributing to the search missions from which they had been largely excluded, many of their visions explored the multinational nature of Arctic exploration, complicating the notion of the Arctic as possessed in all but name by the British. In addition to clairvoyants who hailed from opposite ends of the country, numerous seers participated from multiple sites around the world, with many based in America as well as in Nova Scotia and Australia. One anonymous clairvoyant from Melbourne imagined the Arctic as “inhabited by natives” (“Mesmerism in Australia” 71). In a terrain interpreted as containing “white explorers and their deeds only,” her observation calls attention to the presence of Inuit inhabitants, a fact that tended to be overlooked in official constructions of the terrain as untroubled by competing claims to its possession (Hill 9). Her acknowledgement of the existence of the Inuit prior to British exploration appears in stark contrast to the appropriation of their territory by Admiralty-commissioned explorers, whose transformation of the Arctic into constructed settlements based upon English landmarks affirmed their perception that the landscape constituted Britain’s outermost colonial boundaries (Craciun 699).
            However, by focusing her gaze on the native population she claims to observe in the act of viewing the Erebus and Terror, the Melbourne clairvoyant reinscribes the anthropological narrative asserting European technological superiority as she describes the natives’ reactions. She remarks that they “are quite astonished and are running down to look” at the arrival of the ships. Although her statement suggests that these European explorers might become the object of the Inuits’ gaze as they enter the territory, it does so in a way that recalls eighteenth and nineteenth-century travel writing which, as Pratt writes, “verif[ies] the European’s achievement” (205). Thus, it reiterates the kinds of observations contained in travel narratives that do mention explorers’ brief interactions with native inhabitants, but tended to minimize the Inuits’ contributions to British knowledge and confirm the explorers’ superior technical and intellectual abilities. Captain Francis McClintock’s tremendously popular recounting of his voyage in search of Franklin, for example, provides details of his crews’ encounters with Inuit communities but emphasizes the natives’ experiences of deprivation and starvation in their apparently unsuccessful attempts to survive in the harsh climate. While information obtained from the Inuit was key to explorers’ charting of the Arctic as well as their acquisition of evidence about the outcome of the Franklin expedition, McClintock also questions the accuracy of their understanding of wildlife migration patterns and complains about their rudimentary map-making skills (44, 162). Similar to the way such descriptions in McClintock’s as well as other voyagers’ narratives coalesce to form a representation of the natives’ need for European intervention, the Melbourne clairvoyant’s remark contributes to an understanding of the Inuit as so technologically primitive that a moment of imperial contact inspires their amazement and even admiration. Her assertion thus indicates the limitations of clairvoyants’ transformation of polar travel writing, their participation in scientific and public discourses contingent upon it reaffirming British imperial ideology.
            In offering specific, if conflicting and ever-changing, estimates of Franklin’s location and assessments of the hazardous terrain locking in the ships, clairvoyants also replicated common sentiments in popular travel writing emphasizing the European traveler’s command over the territory he surveyed. To an even greater extent than the voyagers composing canonical travel narratives, paranormal explorers such as Ellen Dawson and Emma L. achieved a “broad panorama anchored in the seer” through the vantage point they gained in their accounts of aerial travel (Pratt 209). The Australian clairvoyant reported just such a panoramic vision to the Zoist: “I see the vessel Sir John Franklin is in; there are other vessels with him; they are all starting together…. I see floating in the sea those large white cliffs; they are icebergs” (71). Their visions thus underscore the ambivalent nature of these women’s engagement with Arctic exploration: while undermining constructions of exploration and fact-gathering as solely masculine endeavors, their reports also reinforced the imperialist objectives of accumulating geographical and ethnographic data.
            However, the clairvoyants’ multiple perspectives and national identifications also complicate Pratt’s model of imperialist travel writing. Disrupting the process of imperial formation whereby materials and knowledge from outlying territories accumulate within the metropolitan center, these women instead pulled information they obtained through their unconventional methods back to their own individual locations and dispersed it worldwide through international media publications. Moreover, their paranormal knowledge significantly departed from imperialist discourses as it created the possibility for participants to transcend the gender and class barriers preventing their physical journeys and undertake an alternate form of travel. And unlike the voyagers who physically altered the Arctic landscape as if it were a colony in all but name, psychics’ mental journeys left no trace of their presence. In circulating their visions, clairvoyants highlighted the suitability of the Arctic as a unique space for their paranormal travel, its status as a seemingly blank canvas rendering it amenable to imperialist fantasies and clairvoyant imaginings alike.
            Such multifaceted narratives resist categorization within the history of Arctic exploration and visual culture, and reveal the larger complexities involved in assessing clairvoyants’ engagement in nineteenth-century travel writing. The paranormal explorers ultimately constructed an alternate model of travel literature, yet their descriptions of the Arctic were nonetheless shaped by the imperialist assumptions underwriting much conventional travel writing. Further exhibiting clairvoyants’ contradictory intervention in the imperial archive are fictional representations of their involvement in Arctic expeditions, and in particular, Charles Dickens’s and Wilkie Collins’s The Frozen Deep. With its complex production history, including numerous public and private performances, this work similarly portrays women’s paranormal investigations in vexed terms. Whereas the psychics involved in the search for Franklin reproduced imperialist ideologies to varying degrees, The Frozen Deep situates clairvoyance in opposition to such practices. Yet despite the clairvoyant’s marginal status in relation to authorized forms of knowledge, Dickens’s and Collins’s text reveals the cultural impact of the Franklin clairvoyants’ contributions to the field of Arctic travel narratives. While her visions threaten to undermine official constructions of the Arctic as conducive to Britain’s territorial expansion, the portrayal of the clairvoyant reinforces the representation of an intricate relationship between scientific and paranormal discourses that emerged in the Franklin clairvoyants’ narratives.
Characterizing the Clairvoyant
            In The Frozen Deep, written initially by Collins but heavily edited by Dickens, two exploratory ships to the Arctic founder, trapping the men amid the ice. The tale follows two of these men, Frank Aldersley and Richard Wardour, as they try to survive in the frigid climate while negotiating their rivalry for the central female character, Clara Burnham, who anxiously awaits news of their fate back in England. Borrowing heavily from the Franklin voyage disaster, its sensationalized depiction of these events led to its popular and critical success in Britain. Initially performed in 1857, only three years after Dr. John Rae returned from his search mission to the Arctic and reported evidence obtained by Inuit inhabitants that many of the men on the Erebus and Terror had resorted to cannibalism before their demise, the play alludes to this “last resort” but in the end absolves the men of this shocking accusation. Similarly appealing to audiences is its inclusion of a character who claims to be clairvoyant, and who heightens the suspense of the play with her dire predictions of the shipwrecked men’s fate. The most significant revisions of the work lie with this character: while in the 1857 version, Dickens insisted on ascribing the supernormal powers to a Scottish nursemaid, Collins’s revision nine years later eliminates the nursemaid from the story altogether, her powers of second sight now possessed by Clara. While the exclusion of a character during the revision and performance process for a drama might not in itself be unusual, such a change in these versions creates far-reaching implications for the ways they contend with issues of class, gender, and national identity and their relationship to clairvoyant mediumship.
            Studies of this work have in large part focused on the 1857 production, with little attention devoted to the structural and thematic variations among the revisions, particularly with regard to their treatment of clairvoyance as central to the work’s plot. In their analysis of this play, scholars such as Lillian Nayder, Winona Howe, and John Kofron have assessed Dickens’s and Collins’s engagement with anxieties regarding national identity and the threatening presence of savagery; Nayder in particular has examined the ways in which the nurse “embodies the threat of racial and sexual difference and is tied to the cannibals referred to in Dr. Rae’s report” (63). However, this interpretation offers only a partial analysis of the complex development of the work’s portrayal of the clairvoyant and its engagement with cultural debates surrounding investigations into the supernatural. While earlier incarnations of this character marginalize her to the extent that she becomes largely irrelevant by the play’s end, subsequent revisions show her to undermine conceptions about English national identity, with her visions at the same time constructing an uneasy relationship between scientific and paranormal knowledge.
            Depicting Nurse Esther as morally suspect and mentally unsound, the first edition of The Frozen Deep associates her clairvoyance with a simplistic, archaic superstition that only savages would entertain, characterizing her and this alternative form of knowledge as the antitheses of Englishness. It was at Dickens’s behest that Collins included Nurse Esther in his revised draft of the play, and Esther’s Scottish background stigmatizes her in a way that mirrors the characterization of Scottish Highlanders as uncivilized in articles published in Household Words (Nayder 63). Her national identification also aligns her with stereotypical depictions of the Inuit as savages, Nayder demonstrates; her working-class status and histrionic behavior serve to denigrate her further. It is her melodramatic and, in the end, mostly incorrect predictions of the voyagers’ fate that establish her as a vehicle for undermining both the Inuit testimony in Rae’s report about the Franklin voyagers resorting to cannibalism, and clairvoyance as an alternative method of gathering knowledge. Voicing the general tenor of the play, one of the characters awaiting the men’s return calls her visions “barbarous nonsense” and wishes the “Scotch Nurse was safely back among her own people” (104). Nurse Esther’s questionable character and easily dismissible predictions thus eradicate the threat she poses to an English national identity grounded in a conviction in moral and intellectual superiority.
            Through her inaccurate predictions which undermine her aggressive insistence that “the Second Sight is a truth,” Nurse Esther paradoxically reinforces constructions of English heroism in her implied critiques of masculine exploration (115). Rather than instigating the violence and revenge Esther predicts, the two men demonstrate that their expedition has inspired valor and self-sacrifice, with Wardour forfeiting his life to save Aldersley. The nurse’s warnings to the women awaiting news of the expedition that they will depend upon her to provide them information “when a’ earthly tidings fail” fall flat, and her behavior becomes increasingly erratic as the play progresses (104). However, while this initial publication’s engagement with cultural anxieties regarding imperialist exploration criticizes Esther’s alternative source of knowledge acquisition, it also suggests the disruptive potential of this method. Persisting in announcing her predictions to the other women of the household despite their objections, she problematizes the public/private divide by bringing her visions of polar travel into the feminine domicile. Although the only aspect of her visions that the drama confirms is her representation of the Arctic as a barren and dangerous landscape, this assertion helps shape an ambivalent portrait of polar travel: the frozen terrain serves as the locus for seamen’s heroic deeds, yet simultaneously threatens to undermine the image of Britain’s imperial success, having already consumed scores of its intrepid explorers (Hill 15). While the subversive effect of Nurse Esther’s visions is limited by her marginalized status as an uneducated Scotswoman, Collins’s contributions to the production of The Frozen Deep explore the potential for clairvoyant knowledge to disturb core British cultural values.
            Collins’s later revisions after the 1857 publication, however, eliminate Nurse Esther altogether, instead locating Esther’s alternative knowledge within a much more central character, the English, middle-class Clara Burnham. At once the embodiment of idealized English femininity and marked as an Other by her Scottish upbringing, Clara is characterized in both the 1866 play and the 1874 publication of The Frozen Deep as a hybrid figure who destabilizes notions of English identity while recuperating otherworldly knowledge from the margins. The later texts’ alignment of paranormality with foreignness remains consistent with the initial play’s emphasis on Esther’s background; her friend Lucy Crayford explains that it is her time spent in the Scottish Highlands that instilled Clara’s belief in second sight. Yet as the object of Aldersley’s and Wardour’s desire, Clara comes to mediate their rivalry at the same time that she becomes the emotional focal point of the melodrama through her anxious predictions. Bridging the gap between physical polar exploration and privately imagined travel through the visions she circulates, Clara signifies the increasing influence alternative forms of knowledge had on shaping conceptions of imperial expeditions.
            The Frozen Deep’s variable representations of clairvoyance, compounded by its shift in genre from drama to oral reading to published novella, indicate the heterogeneous nature of the wider cultural engagement with discourses on epistemology and national identity. No longer associated with notions of lower-class savagery written into the nurse’s role, Clara exemplifies the qualities of a respectable middle-class spirit medium with her delicate constitution and nervous sensitivity. While Collins’s own interest in psychical research, evidenced in works such as The Moonstone and his essay series “Magnetic Evenings at Home,” likely contributed to his sympathetic portrayal of clairvoyance, situating this psychical ability with Clara in effect normalizes it and in doing so makes an important claim for its place within nineteenth-century society. As Alex Owen explains, middle-class mediums were associated with respectability, virtue, and truthfulness; Clara’s visions become legitimized in a way that Nurse Esther’s never were by virtue of her privileged status (51). As a result, her insights display a more powerful engagement with emerging conceptions about the relationship between paranormal and scientific investigations.
            Although this alternative knowledge is recuperated through the central character, these later editions also exhibit variances in the portrayal of the effects of Clara’s visions, particularly with regard to the way they allow her to transcend physical boundaries. Collins’s earlier revision in 1866 presents Clara’s visions of the Arctic in much greater detail than his 1874 reading provides, depicting her first trance in a way that recalls the images painted on popular mechanical panoramas. The initial performance of The Frozen Deep in 1857 had already employed dramatic scenery to depict the desolate Arctic landscape, Russell Potter explains; yet Collins’s revision was the first to use this scenery as a way of physically projecting Clara’s psychic visions to her audience (139-141). In her visions, Clara’s home is rendered an Arctic tableau as her first psychical observation of the men stranded on an iceberg fills the room. Taking advantage of the location of this performance within the large Olympic Theater in London, Collins indicates in his stage directions how clairvoyant insight transforms the English stage as well as the home: the lighting “reveals the view of an iceberg floating on dark water, and seen against a dark sky” (14). In conjuring this Arctic scene, Clara demonstrates her mysterious insight into the men’s journey at the same time that the play shapes its audience’s conceptions about this territory as a dangerous wasteland.             As she sinks more deeply into her trance, Clara projects an image of the Arctic for her audience that threatens to overwhelm the observer, where “long rays of red light shoot up from behind the iceberg over the dark sky, and, spreading themselves gradually, suffuse, first the sky, then the iceberg, then the two figures on it…. [T]his effect of light, from the aurora borealis, gathers and overspreads the scene” until even she appears engulfed within it (14). Exposing theater-goers to this display of Arctic grandeur destabilized not only the boundary between this external territory and the internal space of the theater, but also bridged the divide between the clairvoyant and her audience. Through visual spectacle, the play provided its viewers with the vicarious experience of Arctic travel contemporaneous mechanical panoramas offered, but also gave them direct access to the vision Clara experiences. With her mental image inscribed upon the theater’s scenery, the clairvoyant interprets the landscape for her audience in a more powerful way than mechanical panoramas could, her vision directing the scene to the extent that when it disappears, the stage itself is immersed in darkness.
            In addition to the shift in the portrayal of how Clara’s paranormal knowledge allows her to shape understandings of Arctic travel, the later versions of The Frozen Deep also demonstrate ambivalence in their presentation of the relationship between her clairvoyant abilities and scientific authority. Clara’s visions are attended by illness and fainting spells, described by her doctor as symptoms of one of the “disordered conditions of the brain and the nervous system” in the 1866 play; she is diagnosed with greater certainty as having a “hysterical malady” in the published reading (1866: 8; 1874: 20). This association with nervous illness is a common feature of descriptions of female mediums, as their sensitivity was perceived to facilitate their otherworldly communications.[vii] By portraying Clara as suffering from a nervous disorder, Collins aligns her with Spiritualist writing describing women as particularly suited for extra-normal perception, but also draws upon a long history of medical science associating the female body with emotional lability to the point of physical incapacity. In doing so, the text equates Clara’s clairvoyant powers with psychological disease, thereby downplaying the impact her previous statements about the Arctic expedition might have on cultural constructions of extra-territorial exploration.
            Yet the effects of Clara’s illness are such that while she is rendered the object of medical surveillance as her physician – and the play’s audience – attempt to diagnose her, she also presents a challenge to medical science. Collins’s draft of the play makes clear that Clara’s symptoms and descriptions of her visions confound the physician’s empirical reasoning. Discussing her visions with Lucy, he admits that “[n]either my science, nor any man’s science can clear up the mystery of what you have told me” (8). Collins’s published reading goes further to imply that not only do Clara’s symptoms defy medical classification, but her own conscious resistance to her doctor’s examination prevents him from attaining mastery of the situation. Clara’s objection to her physician’s examination of her is apparent: in her consultation with him, she “submitted impatiently to the close investigation of which he made her the object. He questioned her, and she answered invariably…. [H]e adverted to the news of the Expedition [but] Clara declined to discuss the question. She rose with formal politeness, and requested permission to return to the house. The doctor attempted no further resistance” (163). The lack of cooperation on Clara’s part greatly alarms the physician, and he ascribes her behavior to her “distempered fancies and visions” (167). Reading her resistance as he attempts to read her body for signs of an illness that must be remedied, he tells her companion that he observes “[p]hysically and morally a change for the worse in Clara”; it is evident that both of these changes are equally disconcerting (165). Clara’s clairvoyance is thus depicted as providing her with knowledge surpassing that of empirical science, the effects of which threaten her physician’s ability to normalize her through medical treatment.
            While Clara is similarly characterized in the 1857 production as “excitable and nervous” and subsequently vulnerable to the influence of Nurse Esther, her behavior is not medicalized in the way Collins’s later editions render it; a doctor’s opinion of her health is not even introduced until the 1866 text (104). Medical expertise makes its most sustained appearance in Collins’s last published edition of The Frozen Deep, which includes a role for the doctor for the first time in the work, thereby providing the medical profession with a direct voice to the audience. In doing so, the text draws a connection between empirical science and popular beliefs in Spiritualism, asserting the necessity for authoritative science to evaluate claims – particularly by women – to the possession of alternative understandings of the natural world and human perception. Complicating the text’s privileging of medical science, however, is its description of the physician’s own treatment plan for Clara, one that seems to mirror traditional advice for hysterics to seek a change of scene yet departs from it in a significant way. Recommending that Mrs. Crayford immediately make plans for Clara to leave their home on the Isle of Wight, he directs her to find a way to travel with Clara to Newfoundland in order for them to meet the remaining Arctic voyagers on their trip home. His reasoning for this unconventional journey is that their inevitable reunion with Clara’s lover Frank Aldersley, whom she imagines is at the brink of death in her visions, would prove to her once and for all that the second sight is mere superstition (168-170). Although Clara and her companions, including Nurse Esther, journey to Newfoundland in each of the previous editions of The Frozen Deep, the 1874 text is the first to base this travel on the physician’s recommendation. Within this apparent depiction of the authority of medical science to empirically evaluate claims to supernatural knowledge is thus an ambivalent portrayal of its success in doing so, where Clara’s resistance to medical evaluation is closely followed by her officially sanctioned physical travel to a terrain she likely would have never accessed otherwise.
            In this unlikely turn of events, the physician facilitates the dissolution of the boundary between physical and psychical travel for the professed clairvoyant. “I see them in the icy wilderness,” Clara reports while in a trance in Collins’s 1866 text. “I am following them over the frozen deep” (14). This vision, much more specific than any of those Nurse Esther provided in Dickens’s draft, is later matched by Clara’s observation of the men as she arrives in Newfoundland. By filling in the details of just how Clara’s voyage is made possible – ones left out in the 1866 edition – Collins’s later revision configures an uneasy but reciprocal relationship between scientific authority and paranormal discourses in similar terms as expressed in the Franklin clairvoyants’ narratives. Culminating in a portrayal of female knowledge that is subversive on multiple levels while also carefully guarded within the matrix of male scientific authority, the final publication of The Frozen Deep ultimately offers a portrait of female clairvoyance that provides insight into the mobile and dialectical nature of British cultural responses to this potentially disruptive form of knowledge.
*  *  *
When J.H. Skewes reported in his book on the Franklin search missions almost four decades after Cracroft’s and Lady Franklin’s consultations with Ellen Dawson that clairvoyants’ visions had played a central role in the search efforts,[viii] several of the men directly involved in the authorized expeditions endeavored to contain the threat posed by the idea that the national explorations had been guided by anything but the most rigorous technological and geographical knowledge available to the modern British nation. In his narrative of his own journey to the Arctic thirty years before Skewes’s published account of the clairvoyants’ involvement in Lady Franklin’s search missions, McClintock noted the ideological significance of his and other official expeditions, writing that “the glorious mission intrusted to me was in reality a great national duty.” Aware that his fact-gathering mission would be added to the annals of British travel history in a search that had become a national obsession, he asserts that the missions sponsored by the Admiralty and Lady Franklin “reflect[ed] so much credit upon the Board of Admiralty, [and] were ranked amongst the noblest efforts in the cause of humanity any nation ever engaged in…” (29). McClintock’s and other naval commanders’ letters thus attest to the disruptive potential of spiritual mediums and acts of clairvoyance for British understandings of its imperial project in the Arctic and across its already-established colonies.
           Adding their experiences to the complex domain of Arctic exploration narratives, clairvoyants offered a competing form of knowledge that privileged feminine sensitivity to extrasensory perception over explorers’ determination to travel through a frozen tundra that proved nearly impossible to penetrate. In doing so, these paranormal explorers transformed cultural conceptions about the disappearance of Franklin’s voyage and subsequent search missions, and undermined official constructions of imperial expansion as being predicated upon a scientific discourse that maintained the boundary between the domestic home and the external realm of empire. If authorized travel narratives envisioned the Arctic as a blank canvas offering a seemingly untroubled possibility for Britain’s continued expansion, then the assortment of clairvoyants, and those involved in mediating between their visions of psychic travel and British naval officials’ visions of empire, created transnational accumulations of various types of knowledge that destabilized the very boundaries the British imperial project needed to maintain. Such accounts and popular fictional representations of them like The Frozen Deep figure significantly in British cultural history, making visible the multiple and multinational voices outside of official narratives that actively shaped discussions about British national identity and the empire’s claim to peripheral territories.

Works Cited
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---. The Frozen Deep: A Dramatic Story, in Five Scenes. In The Frozen Deep and Other Stories. 2 vols. London: Richard Bentley and Son, 1874. 1:2-220.
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 “Concerning Supernormal Perception.” The New York Times Magazine Supplement. 27 July 1902: SM10. Web. 14 Nov. 2011.
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---. Letter to mother and sisters. 18 November 1849. MS 248/267/2 of Correspondence. Cambridge: The Scott Polar Research Institute Archive.
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---. “Wife Stories: Narrating Marriage and Self in the Life of Jane Franklin.” Victorian Studies  48:1 (2005), 35-57.
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[i] Brannan’s introduction to the work provides an in-depth history of its multiple versions and performances.
[ii] For an extensive analysis of the ways the Arctic operated as an apparent void upon which Britons projected imperialist visions, see Hill.
[iii] Behrisch discusses several works of poetry written by nineteenth-century explorers, including those by Sherard Osborn and George McDougall, both of whom were sent on search missions for Franklin in 1850 and 1852 (78). See Craciun and Spufford for further analysis of imaginative literature emerging from Arctic exploratory missions.  
[iv] See Penny Russell’s “Wife Stories: Narrating Marriage and Self in the Life of Jane Franklin” and “‘Citizens of the World?’: Jane Franklin’s Transnational Fantasies” for compelling assessments of Lady Jane’s careful negotiation of her public image as wife to Sir John Franklin and her own interests in international travel and political affairs.
[v] According to an article entitled “Concerning Supernormal Perception,” published in the New York Times in 1902, a clairvoyant reported from Scotland that on February 17, 1831, she was “entranced, [and] gave the latitude and longitude of Sir John Franklin, and also of Capt. Austin, who was 400 miles away from him. These statements were published far and wide months before they were heard from, and on their return their report showed that the statements made by the clairvoyante were both perfectly correct.”
[vi] See Winter for additional analysis of this subject.
[vii] For a detailed history of physicians’ and Spiritualists’ conceptions about mediums’ nervous sensitivity, see Sconce 50-56, Owen 139-201, Galvan, and Winter.
[viii] Lloyd-Jones, McGoogan, Ross, and Spufford provide analyses of this work, which includes a story about the ghost of a young girl in Northern Ireland communicating information about Franklin’s voyage to her family, who had passed this information along to Lady Jane through contacts in the Admiralty.
Giulia Hoffmann received her PhD in English from UC Riverside and BA in History from UC San Diego. Her dissertation, “Otherworldly Impressions: Female Mediumship in Britain and America in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries,” examines representations of female spirit mediumship during the rise of the Spiritualist movement and assesses the ways mediums engaged and shaped British and American cultural identities as they claimed to channel the dead through their embodied performances, accounts of clairvoyant visions, spirit photography, and automatic writing. Her archival research for “Visions of Travel” was supported by several grants, including the Barricelli Memorial Grant for Graduate Research and the British Society for the History of Science Outreach and Education Postgraduate Research Grant. She is a graduate student career advisor at UC San Diego, where she provides career counseling and professionalization resources to Master's and PhD students.