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City of Second SightNineteenth-Century Boston and the Making of American Visual Culture$
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Justin T. Clark

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469638737

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469638737.001.0001

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Enchanting the City

Enchanting the City

Chapter:
(p.167) 6 Enchanting the City
Source:
City of Second Sight
Author(s):

Justin T. Clark

Publisher:
University of North Carolina Press
DOI:10.5149/northcarolina/9781469638737.003.0007

As the Second Great Awakening convulsed Boston, liberal Protestants inoculated themselves and their children against irreligious superstition by cultivating a belief in fairies and fairyland. Pointedly allegorical, fairy culture affirmed the genteel, pious and natural sensibility of liberal Protestantism, while simultaneously parodying the lower orders’ supposed susceptibility to illusion. By the 1840s, fairy tales and theatrical fairy spectacles performed at venues such as the Boston Museum served another role: encouraging urbanites to see their class-riven city as an enchanted and abundant metropolis built by truly “free labor,” rather than by morally dubious vanity and capitalist exploitation. Reframing the spectacle of luxury as a magical reward for goodhearted spectators, commercial fairy culture hastened the decline of visual didacticism into outright escapism. For these viewers, the fairy city replaced the tangible civic vistas of Chapters One and Two.

Keywords:   Fairy spectacles, Boston theater, Enchantment, Boston Museum, Illusion

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