19th Century Magicians and Patter

Magic News: A 19th Century Cultural Historian Looks at MagicWe stumbled across a web site called The Vapor Trail and are delighted. 

Melissa Bellanta’s article, "Putting the Dark Back into the Ritz and Patter" offers a well-written history of the magician from the 1800’s to present day.

Melissa Bellanta has her has a post doctorate degree at the University of Queensland in Australia.  She works as a cultural historian based at the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies in Queensland and the blog is her research home.

The blog is absolutely fascinating.  

Dr. Bellanta "wants to find out what popular theatre has to tell us about belief
in the late 19th and early 20th centuries."

The About page for the blog continues:

What did ordinary people
think about religion, science, the afterlife, and the nature of reality
in Anglo society? She?s especially interested in ?mystic theatre?:
public seances, magic shows, displays of mental telepathy and
mesmerism, popular lectures on spiritualism and paranormal phenomena.

Dr. BalIanta’s most current article evaluates the role of 19th Century magic acts in forming and informing "Western reality."


The magician’s ability to glibly distract the Victorian
audiences was key to not only accomplishing sleights undetected but
also bring the audience along into the misty world of what was then

Magicians such as Prof. Haselmayer were committed to
?the enlightened point of view which became official in modernity?, he
says. They campaigned against superstition and spiritualist humbug,
advocating a rigorously agnostic worldview. The airy aesthetic of the
magic act was part of this message of modern enlightenment. 

Its whole
point was to make light of the ?dark arts?, giving them a newly-styled
razzle dazzle in place of superstition and fear. Magicians such as J.
N. Maskelyne and George Cooke, who performed in the turn-of-the-century
period, glossed over mystery with slick talk and sophisticated
mechanicals. When they whipped away the curtain from the
spirit-cabinet, there was nothing inside but air.

This is an incredible site with thoughtful, educated, and enlightening consideration of our collective history in this art.

Make sure you visit The Vapor Trail today.




Related Posts

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.