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Home > Catalogue > Fairies in Nineteenth-Century Art and Literature
Fairies in Nineteenth-Century Art and Literature
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  • 30 b/w illus.
  • Page extent: 254 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.54 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 700/.475
  • Dewey version: 21
  • LC Classification: NX652.F34 B69 2001
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Fairies in art
    • Arts, Victorian--Themes, motives

Library of Congress Record

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 (ISBN-13: 9780521793155 | ISBN-10: 0521793157)

DOI: 10.2277/0521793157

  • Also available in Paperback
  • Published September 2001

Manufactured on demand: supplied direct from the printer

 (Stock level updated: 02:09 GMT, 28 November 2015)


Although fairies are now banished to the realm of childhood, these diminutive figures were central to the work of many Victorian painters, novelists, poets and even scientists. It would be no exaggeration to say that the Victorians were obsessed with fairies: yet this obsession has hitherto received little scholarly attention. Nicola Bown reminds us of the importance of fairies in Victorian culture. In the figure of the fairy, the Victorians crystallized contemporary anxieties about the effects of industrialization, the remoteness of the past, the value of culture and the way in which science threatened to undermine religion and spirituality. Above all, the fairy symbolized disenchantment with the irresistible forces of progress and modernity. As these forces stripped the world of its wonder, the Victorians consoled themselves by dreaming of a place and a people suffused with the enchantment that was disappearing from their own lives.

• First literary/cultural/artistic study of the significance of the fairy in Victorian times • 30 illustrations • Illuminates the link between Victorian realism, together with growth of science and technology, and interest in fairies


List of illustrations; Acknowledgments; Introduction: small enchantments; 1. Fancies of fairies and spirits and nonsense; 2. Queen Mab among the steam engines; 3. A few fragments of fairyology, shewing its connection with natural history; 4. A broken heart and a pocket full of ashes; Notes; Bibliography; Index.


'Nicola Bown's compelling study brilliantly challenges preconceptions about fairies and fairyland; it will transform all subsequent thinking on the topic. Her book is packed with bold, fresh readings of poems, pictures, natural history and philosophy, with examples ranging from Keats' charm'd magic casements, to the famous case of the Cottingley fairy photographs.' Marina Warner

'Bown has accumulated much fascinating material and orders it well; she is an enthusiast who has managed to avoid the twin pitfalls of sentimentality and defensive irony.' The Times Literary Supplement

'In this delightful work it is argued persuasively that the Victorians grasped at fairies, indeed made a cult of them, in appalled reaction to the horrid, mechanised modernity they had built ... Bown has triumphantly overcome the handicap of being an academic to produce a warmly readable and diverting survey of this weirdly melancholy cultural phenomenon.' The Guardian

'A rich, thoughtful feast of a book … an engaging and incisive study that finally rescues its often scorned subject from sentiment and misery.' The Guardian

'This is not a survey of fairy painting or painters; the focus is on a few key items, but to have this richly imaginative genre place in the context of very wide reading is highly illuminating.' Art Newspaper

'This is a richly textured book.' Notes & Queries

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