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.
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.
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.