Witchcraft and magic in 19th and early 20th century regional fiction

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Witchcraft and magical beliefs

Oxford Brookes’ Dr Simon White is working on a new book exploring the mainstream magical beliefs and practices of British people during the 19th and early 20th centuries and how they were represented in fiction.

Dr White is a recipient of the University’s Research Excellence Awards 2016/17, and the funding is providing him with the opportunity to conduct this new area of research.

Below he discusses this project:

A considerable amount of work has been done on the representation of witchcraft and magic in early-modern England and Scotland; particularly on the infamous witch trials of the 16th and 17th centuries.

Though the 1736 Witchcraft Act redefined magic as fraud, ordinary people continued to fear maleficium (harmful magic).

Since the year 2000, and led by the ground-breaking research of Professor Owen Davies at the University of Hertfordshire, historians have begun to explore this striking gap in our understanding of the mind-set of ordinary people, and the social dynamics of local communities throughout Britain during much of the last 300 years.

Only very recently have historians begun to study regional variations in magical beliefs and practices during the 19th and early 20th centuries. This new area of research is the starting point for my new book Witchcraft and Magic in Regional Fiction,1818-1926, which will be informed by the growing body of work on regional variations and by new (historical) discoveries made during my own research.

The most important section of the book will consider the function of magical beliefs and practices, and the importance of the new disciplines of Folklore and anthropology.

Dr Simon White, Reader in romantic and 19th century literature, Oxford Brookes University

I will be re-examining the representation of witchcraft and magic during the Romantic period, particularly the Ettrick Shepherd James Hogg’s semi-autobiographical short stories about magical belief and practice in the Scottish Borders.

The most important section of the book will consider the function of magical beliefs and practices, and the importance of the new disciplines of Folklore and anthropology, in the construction of distinctive regional and local identities in west-country fiction during this era.

I am also going to focus on the representation of socially- and locally-embedded magical beliefs and practices as a critique of homogenised rural modernity in early 20th century fiction.

Witchcraft and Magic in Regional Fiction will fill a significant gap in our knowledge of the fiction of the late-Romantic, Victorian and early 20th century periods.

Generating interest in this subject outside of academia is also something I’m keen to do. So in tandem with my book, I have developed an innovative Historypin Special Collection called mappingmagic.org

Mapping Magic allows anyone to go online and ‘pin’ a snippet of text, a historical photo, video, audio recording or personal recollection to an interactive map covering the whole of Great Britain.

Communities can share local history through this forum; they can enjoy it, learn from it, discuss it and contribute to the development of a complete collection of stories about magical belief and practice from the Middle Ages right up to the present day.

Visit www.historypin.org/en/mapping-magic to find out more.

You can read more about this research project in the Spring 2017 edition of Research Forum magazine.