The Magician, or the Mystical Adventures of Seraphina. A German Romance.
Author: Unknown (possibly Delwyn)
Publisher: Minerva Press
Publication Year: 1804
Book Dimensions: 11 cm x 17.7 cm
Pages: approximately 31
University of Virginia Library Catalog Entry, Sadleir-Black Collection: PZ2 .E575
Sometimes published with Arabian Lovers, this chapbook takes place in Germany and centers around Seraphina, a pious girl who must resist the temptation and power of a mysterious man who claims to be her promised husband.
The Magician, or the Mystical Adventures of Seraphina. A German Romance. To Which is Added the Arabian Lovers, a Tale is a collection of two Gothic stories grouped together, referred to as The Magician and Arabian Lovers at the tops of the pages of the respective stories. From the outside, the book has a marbled, brown leather binding. This marble effect was a common trend for binding books, in which a weak acid would be used to create the marbled appearance. There are no prominent illustrations on the front or back, but the spine of the book is decorated in gold-leaf illustrations of wreaths and flowers as well as some gold-leaf horizontal stripes, separating the illustrations and symbols. On the spine, the book is referred to as The Entertainer and the number three, potentially indicating the volume or edition number. Also, the edges of the pages are speckled with blue ink. This is the result of a book decoration method in which the speckles would be hand-painted onto the edges of the paper. The book is roughly 11 centimeters wide, 17.7 centimeters long, and 2.2 centimeters thick.
Inside the book, there are five other stories, printed with different fonts and margins than The Magician and Arabian Lovers. The book starts with The Magician and Arabian Lovers, followed by the five additional stories. Each of the stories also restarts the page numbering instead of a continuous numbering throughout all of the stories. Some of the stories have frontispieces with illustrations, although The Magician and Arabian Lovers does not. There is even a frontispiece in hand-painted color for one of the stories, although the rest of the frontispieces are black-and-white. This suggests that the book was a collection of different chapbooks, a common practice at the time. The pages of the book are speckled with small grey bits of paper and yellowed with age. Overall, the pages feel worn and delicate, with the paper being thin enough to see through to the back of the page. The Magician takes up approximately 31 pages of the overall book, which is roughly 290 pages. There are also some marks of ownership inside the book, including a handwritten table of contents in the front in what appears to be Michael Sadleir’s handwriting. The table lists the stories inside the book, along with publication years and potential author names, but those are unclear. Additionally, there is a “J Phillips” written on the half-title page for The Magician.
Focusing specifically on The Magician, the font and margins are consistent across the text. The bottom margin is wider than the top, with a fair amount of white space around the main text on each page. In terms of spacing, the words are on the tighter side and the font is also a moderate size. There is a half-title page for only The Magician before the full-title page which contains the complete title for both The Magician and Arabian Lovers. The half-title page and full-title page are formatted differently, with different line breaks in the title and fonts. There is no author printed on the full-title page, however, the title page does list the publication location and year, 1804. While there is no frontispiece for these two stories, there is a small illustration of flowers at the end of The Magician.
Overall, the book itself externally appears to have a relatively nice, higher quality binding and attention to detail on the outside, as seen by the marbled leather and speckled pages. Inside the book, the quality of the paper feels cheaper and worn with time. The book is also inconsistent with its formatting throughout the different stories, so at one point the stories may have been separated.
In 1803, The Magician was published by itself as part of a collection of stories in an earlier version of The Entertainer (Frank 136). Even earlier than that, The Magician was published under the title The Story of Seraphina in Literary Leisure with a date in 1800 printed above it (Clarke ii, 78). At the top of this version of The Story of Seraphina there is a headnote from the author explaining that he found the story in “the hand-writing of poor Delwyn” and that he did not know if the story was a German translation or something Delwyn wrote himself. Additionally, the author anticipates that it will be well-received since the author notes that “perhaps it may not be unacceptable to my readers” (Clarke 78). It seems that this could be the basis of why The Magician is referred to as a German story. However, no author is mentioned in both of the University of Virginia’s copies and there are no known precise German origins beyond this headnote.
As the title The Magician: Or the Mystical Adventures of Seraphina. A German Romance. To Which Is Added the Arabian Lovers, a Tale suggests, the two stories were originally published separately in the early eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. There are two versions of the publication at the University of Virginia library, one of which is simply the two stories in a small chapbook. The other version (described above) is in a collection of other stories in a book named The Entertainer. Both versions at University of Virginia are from 1804. Around the world, the two stories are published together in chapbooks owned by multiple libraries, with versions appearing from 1803 and 1804.
While it is unclear exactly at which point the two stories were first published together, the Minerva Press certainly did so in 1804, which is the year printed on the copy in the University of Virgina’s edition of The Entertainer. The Minerva Press was an extremely popular Gothic publishing company created by William Lane (Potter 15). Not only did Lane’s company publish Gothic literature, but they also had circulating commercial libraries, which helped boost the popularity of Gothic texts (Potter 15; Engar). However, these libraries were still not affordable to the poorest demographics, although they certainly made the Gothic more accessible to the general population (Potter 15). The Minerva Press was often criticized for the cheap quality of its publications and “lack of literary excellence” (Engar). Books printed at the Minerva Press were made using cheap, flimsy materials and sometimes contained errors. Furthermore, publications from the Minerva Press were often re-bound by others (Engar).
There does not seem to be a significant presence in modern academic scholarship of The Magician. Considering that the stories were published by the Minerva Press, this could be due to their lower quality production and the company’s reputation (Engar). There are, however, copies of both The Magician and Arabian Lovers available for sale online. One paperback version lists the two stories together with the same title as The Entertainer does, with no authors listed. This version is sold on Amazon and was printed in 2010, although the description of the book does note that it “is a reproduction of a book published before 1923.” There are digital versions of archival copies of The Magician and Arabian Lovers as a paired story from 1803available online, found on Google Books.
Narrative Point of View
The Magician is narrated by a third-person narrator who is not present in the plot. Early on in the story, the narrator supplies additional details about the backgrounds and personalities of some of the minor characters such as Bianca. The narrator often focuses on thorough descriptions of the surroundings, especially scenes of luxury and opulence. When describing the environment, the narration is flowery and elegant with longer sentences. The narrator supplies Seraphina’s feelings and thoughts quite frequently, although the mysterious man’s thoughts are kept hidden. Unlike the long-winded descriptions, however, the narration style alternates between a choppier or longer style depending on Seraphina’s mood and the tone of her thoughts. Additionally, the narration provides dialogue from Seraphina’s various conversations.
This mixture of menace and submission terrified Seraphina, who found herself completely in his power, in a room most luxuriantly fur-nished, where not a single being but themselves appeared, and where every thing bespoke the uncontrouled voluptuousness of the master. In a few minutes a small table, covered with the most exquisite dainties, appeared in the recess, and Seraphina gazed in wonder. Her lover besought her to take some refreshment. She had not eaten since she quitted the hotel with her aunt in the morning, and she really wanted food. She suffered him, therefore, to persuade her, but she took merely some sweetmeats, and resolved to forbear touching salt while she staid; for, dazzling as was the magnificence with which she was surrounded, she had no wish but to escape. She felt restrained in eating too, as her strange companion still retained her fingers in his energetic grasp. At length, he prevailed on her to drink a glass of wine; wine; it was exquisite, but Seraphina was alarmed, and insisted on diluting it with water. (23–24)
By using third-person narration, the chilling power and demeanor of the mysterious man is amplified. Even “surrounded” by the “magnificence” and material comforts of the castle, Seraphina is unable to truly enjoy anything since “she had no wish but to escape.” The third-person narration aids the story from this viewpoint, since spending more time on the setting is the narrator’s choice, while Seraphina is more focused on her escape and emotions for the majority of the story. The narrator continues to describe the environment and explore Seraphina’s thoughts as the man attempts to convince her to consent to him, both by threatening her with his wrath and by offering her all the luxuries at his disposal. However, Seraphina continuously feels “restrained” from enjoying any of the material comforts surrounding her by her fear of the mysterious man, which is evident in her paranoia in eating or drinking too much of the food he provides her. By continuously describing the environment, the narration serves as a reminder of how Seraphina is not only emotionally surrounded by the man’s presence, but how she is also physically enclosed in this extravagant space, itself a reminder of his authority. Not only does Seraphina feel restrained, but the man physically restrains her by constantly holding her hand every time they are together, which the narrator emphasizes by how he “still retained her fingers in his energetic grasp” in this passage and throughout the rest of the text. What the man truly plans for Seraphina is hidden from her and the narration, so the fear and uncertainty she experiences becomes more palpable. Seraphina is constantly surrounded by “the mixture of menace and submission” the man exudes, through his threats and his physical presence in the form of the perpetual handholding. The narration bolsters this fear by providing insight into her feelings and continuously contrasting the luxurious environment with the man’s unsettling, constant presence that haunts Seraphina even when she is alone.
The story of The Magician, or the Mystical Adventures of Seraphina begins with the yearly fair in Francfort in 1464. The Italian Lady Bianca d’Alberto attends the fair with her sixteen-year-old niece, Seraphina, who is also Bianca’s adoptive daughter. Bianca’s husband, the Colonel, and his brother, Seraphina’s father, were both serving in the army when Seraphina’s father died. The Colonel promised his dying brother that he would adopt Seraphina and kept true to his promise before also passing away, leaving Bianca to raise the “pious and innocent” Seraphina (2). While in Francfort, Bianca and Seraphina go to see a conjurer with a nefarious reputation who performs supernatural acts such as transformations and fortune telling.
As they watch the show, the magician, Gortz, amazes the crowd. At one point, a sudden, unidentified voice shouts Gortz’s name, but the show continues. Gortz focuses on Seraphina and offers to reveal her future husband. Seraphina refuses, but Bianca pushes her to listen to Gortz. However, Seraphina believes that this type of magic is evil and does not want to participate. At one point, Seraphina sees a regally dressed man across the room, staring intently at her. When Gortz makes a magic circle around a fire and tells Seraphina to enter the circle, she hesitates, only to see an illusory version of herself get up. The fake Seraphina enters the circle and chaos erupts, smoke and shrieks coming out of the circle. Everybody, including Bianca, runs away, leaving Seraphina alone with Gortz’s body when the smoke clears. She attempts to leave, at first trying the door and then piling benches up to reach the windows, but fails.
Seraphina again sees the noble, “majestic” man from earlier and they stare intently at each other (13). He holds her hand, refusing to let go, and tells her that he will take care of her. The man reveals that he’s sent the fake Seraphina with her Aunt and that he is extremely powerful. He then gives Seraphina an ultimatum: either become his friend and wife or face his power if she refuses. However, Seraphina already has a childhood friend, Ferdinand, at home interested in marrying her. The man even claims that Seraphina’s father promised her to him when he died in the army. At this point, Seraphina faints and wakes up in his castle and the man again appears before her. Seraphina asks the mysterious man for some time and he gives her a week to decide, telling her that he knows what she thinks, so she cannot deceive him. Once he leaves, a servant attends Seraphina, but she is too scared to even cry. Eventually, she speaks aloud, asking where she can go in the castle. The man appears before her, dressed magnificently, and takes her around the castle. Seraphina is stunned by the many servants, jewels, and luscious flowers they pass by. The man leads her to an empty room, still holding her hand even as she eats. He orders for people to start dancing as entertainment. As they watch the dancing, the man tells her that she must consent to him if she wants to see his true self. At this point, Seraphina decides that his power must come from an evil source and to refuse him at the end of the week.
For the rest of the week, the man holds many exquisite events for her like plays and tournaments. He continuously holds her hand and confesses his love throughout the week, but Seraphina remains disgusted and fearful. Once the week finally ends, he meets Seraphina and asks if she’ll stay with him. Seraphina refuses, saying that she will never give in to magic and then “those sacred names” (29). Immediately, Seraphina wakes up in a bed in Francfort with her aunt. Bianca reveals that she has just received word from Italy that Ferdinand has finally gotten permission to marry her and Seraphina has been sleeping the whole time after the magic show. The story ends with a statement on how upholding virtue will ultimately result in happiness.
Clarke, Hewson. Literary Leisure: or, The Recreations of Solomon Saunter, Esq. [Pseud.]. vol. 2, W. Miller, 1802.
Engar, Ann W. “The Minerva Press; William Lane.” The British Literary Book Trade, 1700–1820, edited by James K. Bracken and Joel Silver, Gale, 1995. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 154. Literature Resource Center.
Frank, Frederick S. “Gothic Chapbooks, Bluebooks, and Short Stories in the Magazines (1790–1820)” Gothic Writers: A Critical and Bibliographical Guide, edited by Douglass H. Thomson, and Jack G. Voller, Greenwood Publishing Group Inc., 2001: 133–146.
Potter, Franz J. The History of Gothic Publishing, 1800-1835: Exhuming the Trade. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.
“The Magician; or The Mystical Adventures of Seraphina. A German Romance. To Which Is Added The Arabian Lovers, a Tale.” Amazon, Minerva Press, for Lane and Newman, 2010.
The Magician: Or, The Mystical Adventures of Seraphina. A German Romance. To Which Is Added The Arabian Lovers, a Tale. Minerva Press, 1803. Google Books.
The Magician: Or, the Mystical Adventures of Seraphina. a German Romance. to Which Is Added the Arabian Lovers, a Tale. London: Printed at the Minerva-Press, for Lane and Newman, 1803. Print.
The Magician: Or the Mystical Adventures of Seraphina. A German Romance. To Which Is Added the Arabian Lovers, a Tale. Printed at the Minerva Press, for Lane and Newman, 1804.
Researcher: Jennifer Li