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Mummies and Egyptology Before Tutankhamen

Thomas Cooper Library West Gallery
Apr 7, 2008 - May 30, 2008
From the Introduction to Higgins’ entry: “At the beginning of the nineteenth century, in both England and America, a popular “science” was the public spectacle of mummies being unwrapped before an upper-class audience in top hats and evening wear. Mummies became so familiar in nineteenth-century culture that stage farces and comic stories commonly borrowed on the stock trope of reanimated, bandaged corpses. “In the late nineteenth century, both fiction and non-fiction works seized upon Egyptian ideas of reincarnation and immortality. Egyptian spirituality was adopted by popular religion and magical science in the mode of H. P. Blavatsky’s Theosophy. Eventually, the reanimated mummy, most often female, became a staple in supernatural adventure literature. Vengeful or sexually-dangerous living mummies appeared in late nineteenth-century adventure fiction, reflecting uneasiness about sexuality and gender roles in the works of their male authors. Conversely, the powerful role of women in Egyptian history inspired such early female scholars as the great Egyptologist Amelia B. Edwards. “Comparisons abounded between the dynasties of Cleopatra and Hatshetsup (Hatasu) and the reigns of Queens Elizabeth and Victoria. Finally, emerging from the late-Victorian Gothic revival, pulp mysteries and horror tales abounded into the twentieth century, still most often featuring female reanimated mummies, the gender shift to male occurring after 1922, when Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered. “This collection, assembled during research for a scholarly work on mummies in literature and popular culture, ‘quickly took on a life of its own.’ To truly sample a cross-section of a literary and cultural phenomenon, the collection and exhibit include histories, scientific treatises, satires, comedies, mysteries, pulp adventure, supernatural fiction, popular religion, and the visual arts.” --John Higgins.