Dementia's jester: the Phantasmagoria in metaphor and aesthetics from 1700-1900

Small, Douglas Robert John (2013) Dementia's jester: the Phantasmagoria in metaphor and aesthetics from 1700-1900. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
Download (1MB) | Preview
Printed Thesis Information:


In 1792, the inventor and illusionist Paul Philidor unveiled the ‘Phantasmagoria’ to the people of Paris. Coined by combining the Greek words ‘phantasma’ (appearance, vision, ghost) and ‘agora’ (assembly), Philidor had intended the name to suggest a vast crowd of the undead, a riotous carnival of phantoms. He promised his audience that, using the projections of a magic lantern and other ingenious mechanical devices, he would show them the illusory shapes of ghosts and monsters, reunite lovers separated by death, and call fiends out of hell.

However, this exhibition of illusory spectres was to become something far more than a mere footnote in the history of Romantic popular entertainment. The Phantasmagoria was to assume a metaphorical function in the mindscape of the period; this cavalcade of spectres was to come to serve as an image for not only the fantastic terrors of dreams and hallucinations, but also for the unbounded creative power of the imagination.

Besides this, the metaphor of the phantasmagoria was to subsume into itself an idea which had its origin in the ‘Curiosity Culture’ of the previous century: the curious collection. As time wore on, this Curious – or Phantasmagorical – collection became a symbol by which writers of the late Nineteenth Century could signal their resistance to bourgeois conformity and their own paradoxical celebration and rejection of consumer culture.

This work examines the evolution of the Phantasmagoria metaphor as well as the development of its associated aesthetic: the aesthetic of the curious collection – the collection of weird and fabulous objects that astonishes the senses and confuses the mind, erasing the boundaries between reality and fantasy.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: English literature – 18th Century – history and criticism, English literature – 19th Century – history and criticism, Phantasmagoria (history and literature), curiosity in literature, Fin-de-siècle (literature), consumerism, collections and collecting in literature, supernatural in literature
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PR English literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Maslen, Dr. Robert and Leask, Prof. Nigel
Date of Award: 2013
Depositing User: Dr Douglas R. J. Small
Unique ID: glathesis:2013-4212
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 29 Apr 2013 13:26
Last Modified: 28 Apr 2016 15:33

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year