From the moment of her emergence as a distinct social demographic in the decades following World War II, the teenage girl has been a source of anxiety and unease. Posited as hormonal, precociously sexual and rebellious, the teen girl was viewed as a threat to the social order and was depicted as both culturally and biologically disruptive. In 1949, these anxieties about female adolescence were explored by Marion L. Starkey in her book The Devil in Massachusetts. Here Starkey undertakes a study of the Salem witch trials that attributes the 1692 witchcraft panic to a group of teenage girls, whom she telling describes as a “pack of bobby-soxers”, “unbalanced young girls” addled by hormones and “hysteria”. Starkey’s book is significant, firstly, in that by connecting the Salem witchcraft scare to adolescence, she solidifies a connection between teenage girls and the occult that would influence the cultural archetype of the teenage witch for decades to come. Secondly, Starkey’s book evidences a preoccupation with adolescent embodiment, with the manner in which teenage bodies are “inscribed, marked, engraved, by social pressure external to them” (Grosz, Volatile Bodies x). Starkey’s book not only attempts to comprehend the Salem trials from a twentieth-century perspective, but it also utilises the figure of the witch as a means of exploring adolescent embodiment and navigating the complex intersections of biology and culture that define teenage girlhood. This paper analyses how Starkey constructs the teenage witch as a conceptual avatar through which the biocultural constitution of adolescent femininity can be explored. Moreover, I will argue that Starkey’s employment of witchcraft as a framework for investigating adolescent embodiment would prove highly influential, reverberating through works as diverse as Ray Bradbury’s “The April Witch” (1952), The Craft (1996) and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (2018 – present).

About the speaker

Miranda Corcoran is a lecturer in the School of English, University College Cork. She is currently working on a monograph focussing on witchcraft and adolescence in American popular culture. She is also the co-editor of Exploring the Horror of Supernatural Fiction: Ray Bradbury’s Elliott Family (forthcoming from Routledge).

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