Friday, December 10, 2010

HFBRT: A ROYAL LIKENESS Guest Post with Christine Trent, Phantasmagoria!

Dust off the red carpet because here she comes! Christine Trent that is, the Historical Fiction Bloggers Round Table is pleased to feature the upcoming release of "A Royal Likeness" which will hit bookstores December 28th 2010. To coincide with the event Christine has graciously prepared a marvelous guest post on one very interesting show that was at one point linked to Madame Tussuad's wax exhibit, The Phantasmagoria. Please give a very warm welcome to Christine from Historically Obsessed and here we go!

A ROYAL LIKENESS Guest Post with Christine Trent

It’s an exciting word, isn’t it? Sounds like a Disney movie.

In A Royal Likeness, I detail the relationship between Madame Tussaud and Paul de Philipsthal, a fellow French showman who persuaded her to travel to Great Britain with him to improve both their fortunes. 

Tussaud owned a fairly successful wax exhibition in Paris.  However, changing tastes in post-Revolutionary France meant that the show began waning in public popularity.  An opportunity presented itself in one Paul de Philipsthal, who had just returned from a successful run in London with his Phantasmagoria show.  He suggested that they combine her wax exhibition with his own show and put them both on display in England.  Together, he promised, they’d get very wealthy by providing unusual entertainments to the English.  

The relationship between these two would quickly sour, as Philipsthal was a bit of a charlatan.  He convinced Tussaud to sign an extremely uneven contract with him, one in which he would take half of her profits until she could pay off the loan he gave her to get established in Great Britain.  In return, he would pay to have her figures shipped around, and would also pay for advertising of both shows.  Unfortunately, Philipsthal didn’t live up to his end of the bargain.  Tussaud was stuck with paying for everything, AND repaying her loan, AND giving Philipsthal half of her profits.

Tussaud suffered under a mountain of debt until a lawyer took interest in her situation and, ahem, had a little discussion with Philipsthal over his wayward tactics.  Philipsthal released Tussaud from her contract, and the two never spoke again.  Madame Tussaud continued on with her vastly successful waxworks, while Philipsthal faded from history.

But what in the world is a Phantasmagoria?

Phantasmagoria is a projection ghost show invented in the late 18th century.  It employed a type of “magic lantern” to project frightening images such as skeletons, demons, and ghosts onto walls, smoke, or semi-transparent screens, frequently using rear projection. The projector was mobile, allowing the projected image to move and change size on the screen as the projector was moved around.  The use of multiple projecting devices allowed for quick switching of different images.

The magic lantern device, developed in the early 17th century, consisted of a lantern with a candle and concave mirror inside. A tube was fitted into the side of the lantern and held convex lenses at either end. Near the center of the tube, a glass slide of the image to be projected was held. Images were hand painted onto the glass slide until the mid-19th century, when photographic slides were employed. Unsurprisingly, the magic lantern was the precursor of both the slide projector and the motion picture projector. Though the magic lantern was often used for amusement by projecting quaint and pastoral imagery, projections were also made of phantoms, devils, and other macabre objects, thus giving rise to Phantasmagoria.

Although there were other Phantasmagoria-type shows in existence, Philipsthal’s was different in that he did not attempt to fool the audience members into believing that the apparitions were real.  In an opening speech, Philipsthal would make it clear that the phantasmagoric images were purely for entertainment. His honesty in this is ironic, given his faithless treatment of Madame Tussaud!

Although I gave Philipsthal a very different ending in my book (no spoilers here), in reality, he appears to have continued on his own for at least another twenty years, but history only remembers his partner, the great Madame Tussaud.

So, whatever happened to the concept of the Phantasmagoria?

For all of you devoted readers, a collection of poems written by Alice in Wonderland author, Lewis Carroll, called “Phantasmagoria,” was published in 1869. The main poem, which bears the collection’s title, is written as a narrative conversation between a phantom and a man who discuss the differences between ghosts and humans.

The influences of Phantasmagoria can still be seen in modern-day theme park attractions; most notably, those created by Walt Disney. The Disneyland Haunted Mansion, for example, employs “smoke and mirrors” in creating its ghostly special effects.

Want to read an interesting historical novel about magic lanterns?  Find a copy of Rosalind Laker’s BRILLIANCE, a historical romance that details how magic lanterns were the forerunner to the film-making industry.  After you’ve read A Royal Likeness, of course.
An 18th century Phantasmagoria

An advertisement for Philipsthal’s Phantasmagoria at the Lyceum Theatre, the first location in London for his joint show with Madame Tussaud.

I have no idea what this creature is supposed to be, but have no doubt it was very frightening to audiences!

Often the projector was behind a translucent screen, out of the view of the audience. This greatly added to the mystery of the show.

Thank you Christine for the interesting history on the Phantasmagoria. It is interesting to see how far the entertainment business has come from using lanterns and smoke screens. I bet it was a real spooky show in its hay day and the added pictures are great! Thank you so much for sharing with us all.

Check out the groups main page for more info and the schedule of events

Review of "The Queens Dollmaker"


  1. Fascinating post -- I'd actually heard the word but hadn't realized it had a history longer than being an adjective for horror movies!

  2. Audra - LOL! I thought it was fascinating to realize that the roots of modern cinematic films go back a century prior to the first silent films.

  3. Man! I read the most interesting info in this blog! Thanks for the recommendation. BRILLIANCE and A ROYAL LIKENESS are both on my Christmas list.

  4. You'll enjoy BRILLIANCE, Meljprincess. And I hope you'll enjoy A ROYAL LIKENESS. :)

    Merry Christmas.

  5. Thank you for an interesting post. I had heard the term Phantasmagoria, but hadn't really considered what it meant. It sounds like a bit more sophisticated version of the shadow puppets used in Indonesia. I would like to be able to watch a show as it was put on in Philipsthal's time.

  6. Audra, I know is that not crazy. I am so glad Christine was able to enlighten me and now you on it too.

    Christine, thank you for the lovely post it is fabulous. You did a wonderful job and thank you for enlightening all of us. It was a pleasure as always.

    Meljprincess, Thank you that is such a compliment. I love to focus on off the wall stuff it makes for some very interesting posts. I am glad you enjoy spending time here reading. You are more than welcome for the recommendations. You will love A Royal Likeness, it was so so goooooood!

    Librarypat, hey hey again nice to have you back. In A Royal Likeness the main character actually goes to the show. So when you read it really does feel like being there. I love it when books transport you to a different time and make you live and breathe it. It is defiantly a book to have on the wish list.

  7. Christine & Lizzy: I owe you both double thanks for this post as I got to show off my new found knowledge this weekend @ dinner party. (With horror movie fans - so I got double props! :))

  8. Audra, right on I love it when that happens!!! It is such a good feeling to learn something new.

  9. Way to go, Audra! I hope they were suitably impressed.

    Lizzy, you should promote your blog as an educational tool, as well as a place to learn about new books, LOL.

  10. Oh Christine you know me way too well. It seems like as I educate myself about what I read and in the process I have to tell everyone else to which leads to educating. LOL


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