Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 206

One can interpret Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke as a form of magic-realism, in which factual historical events are used as a backdrop for a fantastical narrative. The first, or most prominent, theme of the novel is the political and military campaign of Napoleon Bonaparte.

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The other theme in the novel is the idea of attaining knowledge, and this is evident by the references to libraries and "learned societies." After all, the magician's circle is dependent on the passing of knowledge from a master to an apprentice.

Another theme is the setting itself, and the atmosphere of London. There is a sense of place or geography that is ubiquitous throughout the story. Even the reader is aware of Napoleon's sweep through the continent, and this lingers in the back of the reader's mind. The novel also portrays London as both drab and filled with corners that contain hidden magic.

The idea of knowledge, or enlightenment, proves to be a symbolic contrast to the darkness of war and suffering going on across Europe at the time. The novel is also unique for its heavy use of footnotes, which adds an extra layer to the narrative and to the mythology of the characters and events.

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