Will Pooley

In 1916, one of the better-known fortune-tellers and magicians of Paris was sent to prison for fraud. The newspapers were peppered with details: his pseudonyms, some of his more bizarre practices, hints at his clientele. Journalists – much like their descendants today – took great pleasure in mocking the credulity of modern Paris, and revelled in the baroque details of this latter-day ‘witch’.

But I don’t know the most important things about this case.

I’m not talking about what the writer Roy Clark calls ‘the name of the dog’, the telling details from this man’s life and his trial. These little details – the hat he wore, or the look he gave, or the book he owned -could all open out onto the meaning of his life and character, and the situation he embodied.

No: I’m talking about the broad sweep he fits into.

How important was professional magic (rather…

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