Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell Summary
by Susanna Clarke

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Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell Summary

In Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel, magic exists in the world and there are paths to other worlds inhabited by beings like fairies as well. People know about magic and magicians are revered because they can help people.

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Mr. Norrell is a great magician with a large library who other magicians begin to believe may be lying about his abilities. He makes a bargain: if he can prove that he's an excellent magician, the Learned Society of York Magicians will shut down. He does and this makes him the preeminent magician in England. He also binds a fairie—a gentleman—to him and uses him to perform feats of magic like bringing a prominent man's woman back from the dead. This leads him to work with the military and the government to protect the country.

Jonathan Strange is a young man who is convinced to try magic and finds he has an aptitude for it. He ends up apprenticing with Mr. Norrell and working for the military as well. While he's with the Duke of Wellington, his power grows quickly. He and Mr. Norrell disagree on the purpose and power of the Raven King. This drives a wedge between them and they stop working together.

The fairie that Norrell summoned uses the woman he resurrected, Emma, and her husband's butler to amuse himself. She dances for him every night at parties he throws. The butler, Stephen, doesn't want to become the King of England despite the fairie's desire to put him on the throne. The plot to do so is foiled, however.

Strange and Norrell are ultimately trapped in an eternal night that follows them everywhere as they attempt to save Strange's wife's life. When the Raven King does return and fixes everything the fairie did—as well as bringing a street magician back to life. He doesn't, however, fix the eternal night that the men are trapped in. They are still working to fix that at the end of the novel, and, once they do so, they want to travel to other worlds together and don't intend to return.


(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke's debut novel, is both historical and fantastical fiction of the highest caliber. Set primarily in England in the beginning of the nineteenth century, when Napoleon was making maneuvers upon the world, Clarke's novel uses this backdrop as the setting for her version of England. Clarke's England is one where magic and other realms (such as the Faerie realm) are known to exist, and magicians are just as easily famous as military generals.

Into this backdrop comes Gilbert Norrell, a magician who lives in Hurtfew Abbey and, as a rule, does not associate with other magicians and their weekly societies. These societies, according to Norrell, spend more time discussing theories about magic rather than practicing the art. Norrell collects books of magic and has the biggest library of practical magic books ever assembled. Similar to that of Peter Kien, the fanatical collector of books in Elias Canetti's novel Auto-da-Fé(1935), Norrell's library is the envy of every other magician, even more so because Norrell almost never allows others to read the books.

Norrell is contacted several times by the Learned Society of York Magicians and offered an invitation to join, but he refuses. Finally, when he learns that many believe that he is a charlatan, he agrees to a test. He states that he will do a work of magic so outstanding that no one will ever doubt his power again. There is, however, a catch: If he does this work, all the members of the Society of York Magicians must stop calling themselves magicians or studying magic. All except one agree because they think Norrell is bluffing. Sadly for them, though, this is not the case. When Norrell gets the stone statues of the Yorkminster Cathedral to move and talk while he is still at his home, many miles away, the York society realizes that it has lost and disbands. Norrell remains as England's only recognized magician.

As Norrell moves to London and tries to obtain for magic a proper respect in the world, he is contacted by Sir Walter Pole, an...

(The entire section is 1,931 words.)