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'The humbugg of the world at an end': the apocalyptic imagination and the uses of collective fantasy in Norfolk in 1844

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This article will explore the origins of this prophecy in Norfolk, rooting it in a nexus of cultural influences. It will examine popular reactions to the prophecy and how people spoke with, and through, apocalyptic imagery, offering an insight into popular mentalities, imagination and perceptions of contemporary circumstances. It will also consider clergymen’s responses to this millenarian outburst, revealing a multifaceted position. This will necessarily involve some comparison of the similarities and differences between popular and ecclesiastical interpretations and uses of the prophecy. Apocalyptic fantasies will be shown to have variously performed radical or conservative functions. On the one hand, they could offer a condemnation of social inequalities and a dramatic envisaging of social levelling. On the other, these fantasies could become a harking back to a pre-industrial utopia. Whether radical or conservative, apocalyptic fantasies offered an (instinctive) critique of modernization. As W. B. Harrison declared in 1842, ‘We live in an age when the whole civilized world appears to be on the eve of some great and important change’ and there is ‘so much wrong with society . . . that it [is] impossible to conceive how it could be changed except by divine intervention’. This article will argue that, for some people, apocalyptic fantasies allowed condemnation of modernity’s disruptive effects in Norfolk while ultimately acting as a coping mechanism which enabled adaptation to its socio-cultural consequences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)454-468
Number of pages15
JournalSocial History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2006

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