The following document is an abstract of a paper accepted for presentation at the Visual Delights III — Magic and Illusion conference at the University of Sheffield, July 15-17th 2005.

There was a significant overlap between conjuring spirits and conjuring tricks in the Victorian period. This paper examines the performances of the Victorian mediums, Charles Foster, Henry Slade and the Davenport Brothers. All of these performers presented themselves as genuine mediums, and their performances as manifestations of departed spirits. However, all were denounced as tricksters by most of the public. Each of them pioneered a new kind of conjuring effect, all of these effects were copied by stage conjurors, and all later became staple tricks of stage magicians. Furthermore, all of these mediums were caught cheating during performances. Nevertheless, spiritualists continued to claim that they were genuine mediums. It would be easy to dismiss spiritualists as gullible fools, as many Victorians did, but a frame analysis of their performances shows that there was a great deal more to it than that.

Frame analysis describes how actions are recognized as, for example, 'serious' or 'play' (Goffman, 1974). As such, it can be a 'tool for understanding the implicit agreement between performer and audience on the symbolic-fictional status of performance' (Counsel & Wolf, 2001). Frame analysis is particularly relevant to the performance of magic and other deception-related interactions (Nardi, 1984; Lamont & Wiseman, 1999). By examining how the performances of Foster, Slade and the Davenports were framed, we can see how they were made to seem real, rather than illusion.

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Last modified 3 May 2005