The magical imagination: magic and modernity in urban England, 1780-1914

Research output: Book/ReportBook


This innovative history of popular magical mentalities in nineteenth-century England explores the dynamic ways in which the magical imagination helped people to adjust to urban life. Previous studies of modern popular magical practices and supernatural beliefs have largely neglected the urban experience. Karl Bell, however, shows that the magical imagination was a key cultural resource which granted an empowering sense of plebeian agency in the nineteenth-century urban environment. Rather than portraying magical beliefs and practices as a mere enclave of anachronistic 'tradition' and the fantastical as simply an escapist refuge from the real, he reveals magic's adaptive and transformative qualities and the ways in which it helped ordinary people navigate, adapt to and resist aspects of modern urbanization. Drawing on perspectives from cultural anthropology, sociology, folklore and urban studies, this is a major contribution to our understanding of modern popular magic and the lived experience of modernization and urbanization.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationCambridge
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages308
ISBN (Print)9781107002005
Publication statusPublished - 23 Feb 2012


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