The Magical Imagination

The Magical Imagination : Magic and Modernity in Urban England, 1780-1914

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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.
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Product details

  • Electronic book text
  • Cambridge University Press (Virtual Publishing)
  • Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • 1139227599
  • 9781139227599

Table of contents

Introduction: the magical imagination; 1. Constructing the magical imagination; 2. Transformation of the magical imagination; 3. Magic, modernity, and the middle classes; 4. Urban orientation: the gendering of magical mentalities; 5. Urban communal formation and protest; 6. Magical memory mapping; Conclusion.
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Review quote

'... an important reassessment of cultural history that explores the democratization, transformation, and persistence of magical beliefs.' Jason Marc Harris, The Journal of British Studies 'This is a rich and evocative book, which, if the reader can forgive the occasional descent into social science jargon ... should be required reading for any student of folklore, and will [be] of great value to anyone interested in the history of Manchester, Norwich or Portsmouth, or urban history, psychogeography or related topics.' John Rimmer, Magonia Online 'Karl Bell's The Magical Imagination offers further insights into what has become a vibrant field of enquiry, exploring the flourishing of magic in three British cities during the long nineteenth century. ... The Magical Imagination offers multiple approaches that researchers in diverse fields will find useful.' Justin Sausman, British Society for Literature and Science (
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About Karl Bell

Karl Bell is a senior lecturer in history at the University of Portsmouth. He is a cultural and social historian who specialises in the history of Britain from the eighteenth century to the early twentieth century.
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