Imagining witchcraft and magic, c.1800-1920

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Nineteenth-century England’s imagining of witches and magic was bound up in its wish to present itself as one of the foremost modern nations of the western world, one that had left the ignorance, irrationalism, and folly of witchcraft in its historical wake. Building upon earlier trends, the witch of nineteenth-century cheap, popular literature co-existed as a historical and fantastical entity, images that increasingly made her (and nineteenth-century depictions were almost exclusively a ‘her’) a symbol of the unmodern and unreal. These depictions enabled the witch to be repurposed and reimagined, being both tamed for and by literary consumption. This enabled cheap fiction and divination books to become acceptable cultural locations where a sense of magical enchantment could be contained and indulged with little or no relation to the witchcraft beliefs that continued to exist in nineteenth-century England. The chapter examines the way nineteenth-century England had inherited a fantasised version of the witch from the previous century, and how this continued to develop through the growth of children’s fairy tale literature in the Victorian period. The chapter then explores how historical witchcraft was re-imagined, before examining how the development of divination books were linked to wise women figures, thereby granting such texts a (superficial) association with magical traditions. The chapter concludes with an indication of how these images of witches and witchcraft were used to inform a sense of ‘otherness’ through which English readers could confirm their own sense of a modern identity.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBloomsbury Cultural History of Magic
Subtitle of host publicationThe Age of Empire, c.1800-1920
EditorsOwen Davies
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherBloomsbury Publishing Company
Publication statusAccepted for publication - 11 May 2023

Publication series

NameBloomsbury Cultural History of Magic


  • witchcraft
  • fairy tales
  • magic
  • literature
  • history
  • images
  • representations
  • modernity

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