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Victorian Stage Magic, Adventure and the Mutilated Body

Wynne, Catherine


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Dr Catherine Wynne
Reader in Victorian and Early Twentieth-Century Literature and Visual Cultures and Associate Dean for Research and Enterprise, Faculty of Arts, Cultures and Education


Clive Bloom


The period of ‘high imperialism’ in the late nineteenth century converges with what was known as the ‘Golden Age’ of stage magic. I examine how imperial adventure narratives of the late century and stage magicians both deploy illusions to showcase Western technological and racial superiority. Performances in empire and on the stage revel in bodily mutilation. Read in conjunction these two stages (magic and fiction) perform the fantasy of progress but engage in extreme brutality. The late century’s civilizing agenda is revealed as an illusion and the link between technology and progress is severed, much like the severed heads of Victorian stage magic.


Wynne, C. (2021). Victorian Stage Magic, Adventure and the Mutilated Body. In C. Bloom (Ed.), The Palgrave Handbook of Steam Age Gothic (691-710). Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

Online Publication Date Feb 4, 2021
Publication Date Feb 1, 2021
Deposit Date Dec 20, 2021
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan
Pages 691-710
Series Title Palgrave Gothic
Book Title The Palgrave Handbook of Steam Age Gothic
ISBN 9783030408657; 9783030408688
Keywords Decapitation; Mutilated bodies; Magic tricks; ‘Indian Basket Trick’; ‘The Sphinx Illusion’; John Nevil Maskelyne; Colonel Stodare; Charles de Vere; Heart of Darkness; King Solomon’s Mines; ‘The Beach at Falesá’; The Beetle; H. Rider Haggard
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