Magical lives
: biography, conjuring and disrupting domesticity in Victorian literature

  • Beatrice Avril Ashton-Lelliott

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The central aim of this thesis is to conduct literary analysis into the ways in which conjuring and performance magic as a profession and amateur interest disrupted societal standards and domesticity in the literature of the Victorian period, whilst also relying upon these norms as a means of advancing the social standing of its practitioners. It argues that conjuring was depicted in both popular and lesser-known Victorian literature as representative of externalising interiority – of the self and the home – and subjectivity. This thesis puts forward new readings of magician autobiographies and their reception in the popular press of the time and makes significant advancements towards defining these texts as a genre in terms of their thematic scope. The corpus of the thesis consists of these autobiographies, nineteenth-century novels by both the literary establishment and previously neglected texts, popular poetry, contemporary periodicals and select examples of visual media. In terms of scope, the thesis is confined largely to European magicians and texts from between 1850 to 1890, but the conclusion offers future areas for development and research beyond an Anglocentric focus. It contains original work on previously understudied novels and biographical texts written by magicians, uniquely reconsiders a selection of the works of Anthony Trollope in regard to his use of conjuring terminology, examines the poetry of magic, and is the first study to analyse literature by magicians alongside literature about magicians within the cultural history of conjuring. This thesis ultimately progresses performance magic studies by distinctively foregrounding the literary elements of conjuring’s ability to disrupt spatial and personal normalcy in the Victorian period.
    Date of AwardDec 2020
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorChristopher Pittard (Supervisor), Karl Bell (Supervisor) & Paraic Finnerty (Supervisor)

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