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Susanna Clarke

Above: Susanna Clarke, being interviewed by British fantasy author Juliet E. McKenna: March 11, 2006. Image © Patrick Nielsen Hayden. Used under Creative Commons license.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

Magic, madam, is like wine and, if you are not used to it, it will make you drunk. A successful spell is as potent a loosener of tongues as a bottle of good claret and you will find the morning after that you have said things you now regret. —Jonathan Strange's advice to Miss Parbringer in "The Ladies of Grace Adieu" by Susanna Clarke

Any period piece or movie adaptation of a Jane Austen novel must decide whether to give modern audiences the revised, spunky heroine who speaks her mind or remain historically faithful to the period's constraints on personal expression—whether to cast Kiera Knightley or make the BBC version. This choice navigates between two opposing feminist revisionist impulses, one that indulges in the fantasy of heroines who talk back, and the other that depicts silent women rather than risk underplaying the severe ideological and material restraints they heroically negotiate. Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (hereafter JSMN) appeals to readers by balancing these impulses to both alter and accurately recapture the past. The novel does so by introducing magic in an otherwise historically faithful setting of England from 1806 to 1817. The magic alters history by making possible something that the original social structure wouldn't allow. At the same time, the magic recaptures history by making literal, and consequently visible and legible, a metaphor of historical critique. This article investigates one of the central metaphors made legible by magic in JSMN: the "silencing" of certain voices underrepresented in most historical narratives—those of women, people of color, and disenfranchised poor whites. Clarke represents these groups with several characters who are subject to a magically enforced, literal silencing. I begin by focusing on silenced women in JSMN, before turning to race and nationality as constructions created by strategic silences. Ultimately, JSMN encourages readers to rethink our relationship to history, not as something lost that we must recover or anachronistically alter, but as a living text, newly received and interpreted in the present.

Speaking Statues, Silent Women

In the novel's central plotline, "practical magicians" Strange and Norrell, both middle-class gentlemen from northern England, move to London and offer their skills to Parliament for the defense of British interests at home and abroad. Their goal: to remove obscurity and superstition from magic, making it "a respectable profession—no less than Law and a great deal more so than Medicine" (40). Although Strange and Norrell become rivals in published debates, vying for public opinion over how democratic or exclusionary the revival of "practical magic" should be, the two magicians remain close friends, unified by their nationalistic project to "revive English magic" by (literally) controlling what texts are published and digested, what speech is pronounced or distorted—by silencing historically marginalized groups and opening the mouths of the dead. Despite the appearance of public opposition between Strange and Norrell's positions, they both depend on identical social structures to support their rise to power. Strange may celebrate a superficially diverse public sphere for producing English national character, but his democracy is founded through prior exclusions made quietly. Meanwhile, Mr. Norrell, who notoriously buys up all the books on magic and hides them from public eyes, plainly admits the cost of creating an exclusionary "Englishness": elitism, racism, and paranoia.

Exclusion appears in the novel's narrative structure, since both Strange and Norrell advance the cause of English magic through speech spells with unintended consequences, which generate the subplots where most of the narrative tension is located. Norrell makes his public debut by forcing the stone statues of York Cathedral to sing. Then, he gains vital government patronage by reviving a beautiful heiress, Miss Wintertowne, who dies four days before her wedding would restore the fortunes of Sir Walter Pole, MP. The feat requires Norrell to summon the aid of a fairy known only as "the Gentleman with the Thistledown Hair" (or the Gentleman), who demands as payment half of Miss Wintertowne's life. Norrell calculates before accepting, "With half a life Miss Wintertowne might marry Sir Walter and save him from bankruptcy. Then Sir Walter might continue in office and lend his support to all Mr. Norrrell's plans for reviving English magic." The fairy contract is a magic version of what Gayle Rubin describes as the "traffic in women," who are traded like objects to establish the power relations between men, in this case Mr. Norrell, Sir Walter, and the Gentleman.

To conceal the bargain, the fairy Gentleman places a spell on Miss Wintertowne's lips, so that when she attempts to speak about her enslavement, she instead tells gibberish fairy stories that resemble the humorous footnotes speckling Clarke's novel. Effectively, Miss Wintertowne becomes "marginalized" into the novel's subtext. These footnotes mimic the citation authority available to those with formal education and extensive libraries. However, the footnotes also brandish anecdotal evidence—a more democratically available authority of lived experience—that constantly challenges whether the "facts" of the novel are accurate or instead open to reinterpretation. As a symptom of her imprisonment, Miss Wintertowne's ramblings point to voices of protest that appear insane or irrational because they do not agree with the dominant narratives accepted as objective truth.

Mr. Norrell is upset when he discovers that Lady Pole's two half-life incarcerations—one spent dancing at fairy balls in the Gentleman's unearthly castle, the other with Sir Walter in London—will be served concurrently, but Norrell is too afraid of public exposure to do anything. Sir Walter Pole, embarrassed by his wife's apparent insanity, aids the conspiracy by protecting his family's reputation. He persuades Arabella Strange not to mention to her magician husband about Lady Pole's behavior: "[O]n rare occasions when any one new comes to the house, it always excites her to these outlandish speeches. I am sure you are too good to repeat any thing of what she has said" (269). Even Miss Wintertowne's mother believes the family should stifle gossip by never mentioning her death and resurrection by magic: "Dignity and silence. Quite. I do not think we can ever be too discreet upon the subject of poor, dear Emma's sufferings. After tomorrow I for one am determined never to speak of it again" (93). Sir Walter eventually secretes away his wife in an insane asylum.

Frustration with Norrell's cowardly evasion and Strange's self-centered oblivion keeps the pages turning while we wait for Lady Pole to be rescued from a spell that makes her akin to a "madwoman in the attic," an archetype seen by Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar as the unacknowledged center of British novels. Lady Pole's divided consciousness furthers the parallel, since she lives a dual existence: The first Lady Pole is a passive, absentminded wife, imbued with the masochistic virtue of Samuel Richardson's Clarissa. Confined to aimless wandering in her house, she attempts to overcome the silencing spell through circuitous allusions to Norrell's unspeakable contract—a predicament worthy of any courtship novel heroine, who must indirectly express her desire and negotiate her exchange in the marriage market.[1] The second Lady Pole is an "outlandish" Bertha Mason (269), trapped in the Otherlands with enough murderous anger to make an unsuccessful attempt on Mr. Norrell's life. Lady Pole's divided consciousness and imposed silence makes concretely visible through magic the effects of male dominance, a silence in the historical record.

These two Lady Poles correspond with the split desires of modern readers—with our rage at quiet acquiescence and our rereading of silence as subversion.[2] Indeed, when finally freed by two amateur magicians, a reunified Lady Pole speaks with the reader's voice when she denounces Norrell and Strange's traffic in women and picks up her pen, assuming the authority of a feminist scholar: "Bargained away for the sake of a wicked man's career! . . . We must write to the editors of the newspapers!" Her rescuers object that surely Jonathan Strange, who lost his wife, is only a victim, but she replies, "Upon the contrary! By his negligence and cold, masculine magic he has betrayed the best of women, the most excellent of wives! . . . Oh, how these men protect one another!"

Her skepticism of Strange's supposed liberality is warranted by his own moral compromises for the sake of his curiosity and penchant for magical experimentation. In an incident equivalent to Norrell's resurrection of Miss Wintertowne, Jonathan Strange forces the enemy's secrets from the lips of twelve dead scouts while fighting in the Peninsular War. The trouble, however, is laying to rest the corpses he animates, who follow him around until, in desperation, he lights them on fire. Both Strange and Norrell demonstrate a facility for awakening what they cannot put to sleep, for beginning projects without sufficiently considering their test subjects and refusing to accept the consequences.[3] By request, the episode is stricken from Lord Wellington's dispatches to protect Strange's public image. As Strange becomes increasingly engrossed in his studies, his neglected wife, Arabella, is also abducted by the fairy Gentleman and replaced temporarily with a spelled piece of wood that promptly dies, without Strange noticing any substitution. By implication, the fairy spell is a belated literalization of the way Strange has viewed Arabella since the beginning, as an inanimate object he can set aside or pick up at his convenience.

The hypocrisy of Strange and Norrell's nationalist project to revive English magic, with its costs deferred to women, appears in the novel's more subtle gothic doubling of Britannia. The reclusive, cranky Mr. Norrell, a hero for spying out Napoleon's armies by magic, inspires a popular engraving of a young, scantily clad lady, "Magic," leading Mr. Norrell to the rescue of a weeping woman with a helmet and lion, "Britannia." The engraving shares with the novel's chapter the title "The Spirit of English Magic urges Mr. Norrell to the Aid of Britannia" (110-111). We are warned, however, to question the magician's bloody profiteering, spun as the chivalric protection of Nation-as-Woman. Norrell has only recently completed his calculated sacrifice of Miss Wintertowne. Moreover, the chapter begins with an extended scene about a broken wine cask, a device that Dickens uses in A Tale of Two Cities when depicting bloodthirsty, starved Parisians during the Reign of Terror. Britannia's double appears nearer the novel's conclusion, right after Lady Pole's rescue. We learn that one of the roads to Faerie is guarded by a knight who calls himself "the Champion of the Castle of the Plucked Eye and Heart." Dressed in British uniform, he stands before a castle surrounded by hanged corpses. The shadowy figure of a woman watches overhead from a distant castle as he butchers anyone who attempts to pass. Presumably, the fairy lady has ensorcelled the knight and staged a personal romance, wherein she plays a helpless victim in order to enjoy the spectacle of slaughtered soldiers. The two Britannias that bookend Lady Pole's enslavement demonstrate how chivalry is a deception Strange and Norrell use to depict their self-aggrandizing project as selfless public service.

The Color of Magic

If Britons never will be slaves, does "English magic" exclude "black magic"? The relentless connection between magic and nationhood in JSMN begs the question: what is specifically English about English magic? The notion of an English magic, assumed by Strange and Norrell, is questioned through two characters: Stephen Black, Lady Pole's butler, and Vinculus, a fraudulent street magician.

Stephen, the son of a Caribbean slave who dies before she can give him a name, defies national borders and legal categories. He is born while crossing the Atlantic with Sir Walter's grandfather, halfway between England's slaveholding colonies and free England. As butler to a minister of Parliament in London, Stephen is the very essence of Englishness. He organizes the Pole household with English practical efficiency and is acutely class conscious because his position as butler demands respect denied by his race. Yet this very Englishness prompts Sir Walter's servants to believe that Stephen must be an African prince, "For it was hardly likely that such independent, proud-spirited Englishmen and women would have submitted to the authority of a black man, had they not instinctively felt that respect and reverence which a commoner feels for a king!" (140). The fairy Gentleman makes a similar assumption. When he first encounters Stephen, the Gentleman asks him to dress his hair, but noticing his handsome features, remarks, "Your dignity and handsomeness proclaim you to be of noble, perhaps kingly birth! . . . A man as talented and handsome as yourself ought not be a servant! . . . He ought to be the ruler of a vast estate! What is beauty for, I should like to know, if not to stand as a visible sign of one's superiority to everyone else? . . . There is some mystery here and I shall certainly look into it just as soon as I am at liberty" (149). The mystery is racial inequality, which the fairy Gentleman misreads using a different code of body legibility, one that conflates beauty with nobility, rather than race with nationhood. No matter how English Stephen acts, he cannot be English, just like no matter how noble he looks, he cannot become the King of England—the Gentleman's efforts not withstanding.[4]

As the Gentleman's error suggests, in many ways fairy racial blindness is functionally equivalent to English racism. Physical appearance remains the primary indicator of social status. The Gentleman thus idealizes Stephen as a noble savage and enslaves him by taking him to fairyland every night. Like Lady Pole, Stephen suffers under a silencing spell that mimics gaps in the historical record. We read his agonized struggles to break the spell and confess his (historically unspeakable) love for a white widow who is a shopkeeper. Furthermore, the double subject/object status of black slaves under English law is reflected in the Gentleman's attitude towards Stephen as a collectible curiosity, another strange dancer for his hall. The Gentleman values Stephen as an exotic object: "They perfectly complemented each other: gleaming black skin next to opalescent white skin" (149). Such aesthetic valuation once created a demand for blacks as domestics, or as attendants to set off a young lady's white skin in a portrait.

"The True Picture of One Picte"

"The trvve [true] picture of one Picte" (1588), as drawn by Ihon White, engraved by Theodori de Bry, and colored by an unknown artist. De Bry published such images with Thomas Hariot's A Briefe and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia "for to showe how that the Inhabitants of the great Bretannie haue bin in times past as sauuage as those of Virginia." Ostensibly, White "fownd" his Pictish figures "in a oolld English cronicle."

Stephen's persistent self-identification with the English, even as that identification is denied by white oppression, is what prevents him from taking the Gentleman's side. The fairy, after all, wants to make him rich and powerful, and punish the family who enslaved Stephen's mother. Stephen naturally sympathizes with the latter suggestion, even as he withdraws in horror at the violent means the Gentleman suggests. Stephen's conflicted psyche is brought to the fore in a scene where the Gentleman uses a spell to place them in front of Stephen's greatest enemy. Because that would be Stephen Black, they are transported to the middle of a field, alone, but are soon joined by the traveling magician fraud, Vinculus. Clarke's most creative character, Vinculus is a living book, bearer of a prophecy about Strange and Norrell. Penned by the Raven King (a character who becomes more familiar later in the book), the prophecy was literally a book, handed down in Vinculus's family, until Vinculus's drunken father ate it as a dare. Months later, Vinculus was born with the book's blue ink tattooed all over his body, so that he simultaneously resembles a British Pict and a South Sea Islander (past and present English Others). The Gentleman kills Vinculus by hanging him on a tree, all the while taunting him, "Do you dance, rogue? . . . I shall teach you some new steps." Forced to watch what resembles a KKK lynching, Stephen feels sympathy with the Englishman who shares with him a skin coloring that others eagerly read with misplaced significance. "Forgetting that he had determined to hate all Englishmen," Stephen "covered his face with his hands and wept" (739). By sympathizing with Vinculus, Stephen acts out what Franz Fanon (among others) theorizes as a black man's self-hatred, produced by a split consciousness that identifies with his oppressors while hating them.

Even though the fairies embody white power, Clarke also depicts them as racial Others, suggesting the impossibility of maintaining a simplistic self/Other dichotomy as a means of defining nationhood. Mr. Norrell's fear of fairies is a fear of miscegenation and foreign invasion. He tells the Gentleman, "You will steal Englishmen and women away from their homes and make England a place fit only for your degenerate race!" (498). When Strange sees a glimpse of a fairy road, he, likewise, is afraid. "The wood . . . appeared sinister, unknowable, unEnglish." And his wife, Arabella Strange, considers that magic is not the safe, tamable pursuit that Strange and Norrell make it out to be: "Magic, which had seemed so familiar just hours before, so English, had suddenly become inhuman, unearthly, otherlandish" (397, Clarke's emphasis)—the same language used to describe Miss Wintertowne's insanity and Stephen Black's appearance.

Characters with a persistently nationalistic understanding of magic reinterpret the Otherness of Faerie as signifying the essence of Englishness. Strange and Norrell are fascinated by the fairies, especially one of their leaders, the Raven King, a human changeling raised in Faerie. Long ago, the Raven King conquered northern England with a fairy army. What could be alien and disturbing is just another part of English history that the magicians can nostalgically invoke, a remnant of essential Englishness untainted by foreign influence, and thus proof that a unified national identity is possible in the present. For Strange and Norrell, there is nothing more English than the Raven King, yet he is a child abducted to the Otherlands who returns with a foreign fairy army to invade England—a dirty, uncivilized, animalistic child at that, who cannot even speak English and was stolen away before being christened, leaving him with the nickname "the nameless slave." The most English of all Englishmen, then, is both king and slave, in many ways indistinguishable from Stephen Black. This paradox is what ultimately resolves the plot.

When Strange and Norrell summon "the nameless slave," the Raven King's powerful alliances with nature are transferred to Stephen Black, allowing Stephen to kill the Gentleman and free himself from slavery.

Leading up to his moment of power, Stephen had already begun to question his desire to blend into English society as an ordinary butler. The implausibility of the Gentleman's plan to make him King of England awakens Stephen to the failure of his own efforts at self-empowerment through an English subjectivity that other people do not recognize is available to him. This point is brought home to him when the beautiful white horse given to him by the Gentleman is killed by a careless coachman, who narrowly averts colliding with Stephen on a country road. The coachman looks around for the disturbance. "Seeing nothing but a black man, he lashed out at him with his whip" (520). The blow knocks down Stephen's horse, who breaks her back. Hoping for help, Stephen looks to the estate from which the carriage emerged. "A woman appeared for a moment at a window. Stephen had a brief impression of elegant clothes and a cold, haughty expression. As soon as she had satisfied herself that the accident had produced no harm to any one or any thing belonging to her she moved away" (520-21). A carrier in a cart soon comes around the bend and helps Stephen put down his horse. Although kind and helpful, the carrier is unable to comprehend the signs of wealth marking Stephen's person as anything pertaining to Stephen. "Despite the fact that the cost of Stephen's clothes and boots could have bought the carrier's cart and horse twice over, the carrier assumed the cheerful superiority that white generally feels for black" (521). The carrier also assumes that his horse belongs to Stephen's master, rather than Stephen himself. From this experience, Stephen learns that the respect afforded to class status does not extend to black Englishmen. In a chance encounter, strangers read Stephen as an insignificant black man dressed up to display the wealth of a powerful white man. The scene's choreography fittingly draws attention to the racial dimension of Britannia's gothic double within Faerie. There, a British coachman in livery challenges an "otherlandish creature" (522) on the road to his lady's estate, while the cruel she looks down at the performed chivalric defense of her domestic space. Stephen reflects on his exclusion: "He was not English; he was not African. He did not belong anywhere" (527). Through this final rejection of an identity based on the fiction of geographical origin, Stephen becomes prepared, in the moment he holds the Raven King's power, to cast off his slave name and depart for Faerie, where he becomes a fairy king, ruling over the fairy Gentleman's former estates.

Commemoratation of Britain's 1807 abolition of the slave trade

A plate (1808) commemorating Britain's 1807 abolition of the slave trade. Painted by Henry Moses and engraved by Joseph Collyer.

The mistake in the spell is possible because Strange and Norrell are so clueless about slavery's importance to England's world dominance that they don't think using "the nameless slave" in a summoning spell could be ambiguous. Although the problem occurs to Mr. Norrell, Strange snaps, "[D]o not be fanciful[.] . . . How many nameless slaves can there possibly be in Yorkshire?" In one sense, Strange is correct. Slavery was abolished on the British Isles in 1787, freeing 15,000 resident blacks, and British participation in the slave trade was abolished in 1807, about when Clarke's novel begins. However, products such as tobacco, sugar, tea, and cotton for English factories—imported from the British West Indies and the Americas, and made affordable to the English middle class through slave labor—were central to English domestic life and industrial might. Prior to 1807, over half the Africans forcefully relocated to the Americas were carried in British ships, and slave ownership (as distinct from trade) was not abolished throughout the British colonies until 1833. Following the Napoleonic Wars depicted by Clarke, England deployed a progressive narrative about their own transformation from oppressive slave owners to slave liberators, as evidence that their moral superiority over other nations made them uniquely fitted to colonize the globe (Gallagher 85-86). Ideological assumptions about English self-improvement and willing dissociation from the corrupting influences slave ownership underlie Strange's easy dismissal of slavery's connection with the England of his times.

The comical description of Stephen's lavish apartment, abandoned when he departs, provides an alternative illustration of the unavoidable interconnectedness of slavery with British wealth and commerce: "It was full of things that were precious, rare or wonderful. If the Cabinet, or the gentlemen who direct the Bank of England, had been somehow able to acquire the contents of Stephen's bedchamber their cares would have all been over. They could have paid off Britain's debts and built London anew with the change." The profusion of rare objects, and Stephen's place among them, recalls the lucrative Atlantic trade, which helped accumulate capital and establish commodity consumption patterns to support English industrialization. The bedchamber's resemblance to a British museum also implies a comparison of English culture with fairy acquisitiveness, as if the drive to collect is born of the emptiness of Englishness as a meaningful category, a vacuity that these stolen artifacts from other cultures thinly disguise.

Conclusion: History as Text

At the center of Susanna Clarke's historical novel are three characters, each a victim of Strange and Norrell's project to promote magic as rational and "English," and each corresponding to a social group historically marginalized in order to solidify Englishness as a cohesive category of identity: Miss Wintertowne (silencing of women), Stephen Black (silencing of blacks), and Vinculus (the silencing of disenfranchised poor whites). By the novel's conclusion, Strange and Norrell (still professing faith in historical progress) have managed to trap themselves in a column of darkness where time remains fixed at midnight. Meanwhile, the novel's ruthless fairy antagonist is defeated by the allied efforts of women, blacks, and the very poor white magicians put out of business by the professionalization of magic.

JSMN responds to our modern reception of two literary traditions: fantasy adventures and courtship novels. I cannot help but note a similarity between Strange and Norrell's flawed project to "revive English magic" and the creation of "a mythology for England" associated with J. R. R. Tolkien's mythopoeia. The England of JSMN cannot search in its past to discover its untainted origins, because it has so long been an invaded nation of mixed racial identities.[5] Stephen Black's last words announce an end to fantasy nostalgia by stopping the Gentleman's tradition of commemorating historical events with bloody reenactments—such as torturing and killing innocent victims as stand-ins for the Gentleman's old enemies. "This house," Stephen tells his fairy subjects, "is disordered and dirty. Its inhabitants have idled away their days in pointless pleasures and in celebrations of past cruelties—things that ought not to be remembered, let alone celebrated. . . . All these faults, I shall in time set right." The "house" Stephen points to could be interpreted as that body of fantasy literature that unthinkingly valorizes "past cruelties" without critical reflection. If speculative fiction can construct a world in which space and time are scarcely barriers, then it should have the velocity to escape servitude to old power structures.

The potential for radical revision, however, does not make the past entirely Other or irrelevant, since it is accessible to interpretation. Like the flawed spell that ruptures time and place to summon the Raven King, Clarke converges the novel's Napoleonic setting with our present day. By calling to life voices silenced by history, Clarke insists that history is a text newly received in the present. JSMN tells of old magic books newly read—or eaten and digested, only to reappear tattooed on ostracized bodies of the next generation. This premodern past is still current and, like magic, cannot be called an anachronism.

At the novel's conclusion, Strange and Norrell emphasize linear time and scientific progress, but Vinculus offers an alternate model of history as an evolving text. After Vinculus is hanged by the Gentleman, the Raven King indeed returns. He revives Vinculus and changes the text inscribed on his skin into something new. "So what are you now?" Childermass (Norrell's servant) asks him at the novel's conclusion. Vinculus replies,

"I am a Book . . . It is the task of the Book to bear the words. Which I do. It is the task of the Reader to know what they say."

"But the Reader is dead!"

Vinculus shrugged as if that were none of his concern.

"You must know something!" cried Childermass, growing almost wild with exasperation. He seized Vinculus's arm. "What about this? This symbol . . . occurs over and over again. What does it mean?"

"It means last Tuesday," [Vinculus] said. "It means three pigs, one of 'em wearing a straw hat! It means Sally went a-dancing in the moon's shadow and lost a little rosy purse! . . . I know what you are doing! You hope to be the next Reader!"

After the Raven King (as author) makes a momentary appearance to invigorate his book, Vinculus's "Reader" steps in to interpret—but Vinculus understands his inscribed body as evolving, as a new text with new readers who cannot simply reconstruct the interpretations of those who have died. The England of these readers is itself legible, if only for a brief, serendipitous moment when time bends back upon itself.

Footnotes

[1] Clarke delights in drawing parallels with actual romantic novels. While Arabella Strange waits for her husband, Sir Walter gives her a copy of Belinda, in which the heroine marries an eccentric "man of genius."

[2] My casual references to reader responses of British courtship novels featuring seemingly passive heroines who must find a way to negotiate agency despite extreme obstacles come from class discussions and student papers on novels by Jane Austen, Francis Burney, and Samuel Richardson. Helen Thompson provides a more complete documentation of what I refer to as "two opposing feminist revisionist impulses" in Ingenuous Subjection, a study of eighteenth-century courtship novels, which begins by recognizing a generational split in today's readers. Whereas Thompson identifies with patient heroines who follow the rules of propriety, her students are frustrated with their refusal to openly resist with plain speech when abused. She gives several examples from an assignment that asked students to rewrite a scene from Evelina to reflect what they want to see happen. And the altered Evelina? She slaps Sir Clement Willoughby, punches out men in Covent Garden when they molest her, and threatens to sue her father for refusing to acknowledge her legitimate birth: "Listen John . . . you inform me that you can see me no more?! Well, sir, I implore you to take a good look, because if you do not own me as your daughter now you shall be seeing quite a bit of me in court!" (2). In each student paper, Thompson notes, the altered narrative corrects compliance with patriarchal oppression to the modern reader's satisfaction, yet acknowledges that such outward rebellion is historically impossible by creating some explanation for why the uncharacteristic behavior emerges: "demonic possession . . . a snapped nerve, banged head, unloosed tongue" (2). I argue that Clarke similarly provides such an explanation, in JSMN, through magic.

[3] Jonathan Strange refuses to clean up after his magic throughout the Peninsular War. He rearranges the landscape of Spain and later avoids letters from the Spanish king, begging him to put things back the way they were. Although Strange claims a gentleman would not kill a man by magic, he willingly kills soldiers indirectly by shaping earth during the Battle of Waterloo. Thus, his ethical code fails to follow through the line of cause and effect between the immediate magical spells he uses and their eventual consequences.

[4] Ian Baucom discusses how a person's race affected British citizenship in Out of Place: Englishness, Empire, and the Locations of Identity. He explains that although a black man could be a British citizen, he could not become "English" because it was considered a racial category rather than simply a nationality one can choose to adopt.

[5] To clarify, I do not think that Tolkien's mythopoeic project can be reduced to discovering a past before English culture mixed with outside influences. Although at times Tolkien hints that he is interested in such a search, his essay on Beowulf argued against scholars who tried to recapture what the text was like before its "corruption" by Christian influences, instead valuing these alterations as contributions to an artistic whole. I do think, however, that the phrase "reviving English magic" points more generally to the body of fantasy literature that unthinkingly replicates earlier fantasy traditions without considering the historical baggage these stories carry from centuries of colonial and racial discourses. Ursula Le Guin points to the same problem in her essay "American SF and the Other."

Works Cited

Baucom, Ian. Out of Place: Englishness, Empire, and the Locations of Identity. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Clarke, Susanna. Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Illustrated by Portia Rosenberg. New York and London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2004.

Clarke, Susanna. The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories. New York and London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006.

Gallagher, Catherine. "Floating Signifiers of Britishness in the Novels of the Anti-Slave-Trade Squadron." In Dickens and the Children of Empire, edited by Wendy S. Jacobson. New York: Palgrave, 2000.

Gilbert, Sandra M., and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination, 2nd ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2000.

Fanon, Frantz. Black Skin, White Masks. Translated by Charles Lam Markmann. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1991.

Le Guin, Ursula K. "American SF and the Other." Science Fiction Studies 2:3 (November 1975). http://www.depauw.edu/SFs/backissues/7/leguin7art.htm.

Rubin, Gayle. "The Traffic in Women: Notes on the 'Political Economy' of Sex." In The Second Wave: A Reader in Feminist Theory, edited by Linda Nicholson. New York and London: Routledge, 1997.

Thompson, Helen. Ingenuous Subjection: Compliance and Power in the Eighteenth-Century Domestic Novel. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2005.


Elizabeth Hoiem and Pippin


Elizabeth Hoiem (hoiem@uiuc.edu) is an English graduate student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she teaches fantasy and British literature. She is writing her dissertation on autonomy and mechanism in British education theory, 1760-1860. This project occasionally clashes with reading speculative fiction, but the two fields find common ground in her love of quirky mechanical gadgets. Her other writing includes an article in Tolkien Studies, Volume 2. To the right, she is seen with her cat Pippin.
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