This book explores how Romanticism was shaped by practices of popular magic. It seeks to identify the place of occult activity and culture – in the form of curses, spells, future-telling, charms and protective talismans – in everyday life, together with the ways in which such practice figures, and is refigured, in literary and political discourse at a time of revolutionary upheaval. What emerges is a new perspective on literature’s material contexts in the 1790s – from the rhetorical, linguistic and visual jugglery of the revolution controversy, to John Thelwall’s occult turn during a period of autobiographical self-reinvention at the end of the decade. From Wordsworth’s deployment of popular magic as a socially and politically emancipatory agent in Lyrical Ballads, to Coleridge’s anxious engagement with superstition as a despotic system of ‘mental enslavement’, and Robert Southey’s wrestling with an (increasingly alluring) conservatism he associated with a reliance on ultimately incarcerating systems of superstition.
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