So there I was, doing some research for stuff, and I found out that while lybrary.com did a pretty good job getting all of the old Learning Pig public domain stuff archived, some items actually didn’t make it over. Not sure why that was, but regardless, I came across another website that has most of them. There’s even Stanyon’s Magic and the Jinx on there, although the scans aren’t great and a lot of the links are broken — the material is there, but you have to adjust the website address in your navigation bar…

Anyway, there’s C. Lang Neil’s The Modern Conjurer, and I knew nothing about it, so I just started reading through it. I didn’t read it as carefully as I could have, since I was just scrolling and looking for card stuff, and then I come across this photo that seems sort of weird. There’s three people there, and it’s two men on either side of a woman, and I remember thinking that this might be some pretty awkward blocking, since the magician would have to reach right across the woman to hand a card to the other man or whatnot…

…at which point I realized that I was a backwards idiot, since it was the woman who was doing the magic for the men. Behold Mademoiselle Patrice, apparently a student of Charles Bertram’s, and she’s got a ton of material in this book. It’s mostly stage or drawing room type stuff, but it’s no joke. She’s got in her repertoire things like a card stab, the old pocket-to-pocket cards across, the linking rings, billiard ball manipulation… Heck, here’s photos of her doing flag manipulation.

I didn’t even know that this was ever a thing. I mean, I knew about kids show magicians doing the mismade flag and stuff like that, but nothing on this scale.

It was interesting as well to read the upfront descriptions of the methods, which would say things like “suitable for a performer of either sex”, and that was sort of neat, seeing as how they casually remarked that yeah, the ladies can do magic too, whereas these days it feels like a much more noteworthy thing, with magic being much more of an obvious boys’ club.

Back when I was writing on the old ye olde, I went off on a rant regarding an unsavory term — “vagician” — which was used to describe female magicians with zero talent or understanding of magic who got by on sex appeal. Probably not my best moment, as I kind of went full-on politically-incorrect and said that I thought the pejorative nature of the term was actually appropriate, since I hate the idea of people getting accolades doing what I love poorly. It wasn’t solely a gender thing, I was just kind of hardcore about it and would have gotten angry if that clumsy Chris Pratt card trick had showed up back then as well. I don’t like the idea of tourists taking over where we live. There are certainly talented female magicians out there but they aren’t getting the recognition. Back when I was ranting about this stuff, there was one coin magician called Claudia from Spain, and she had an amazing Three-Fly. One problem that a lot of modern coin manipulation has is trying to pass off angly concealments as proof of a vanish, and so you’ve got your hand in a palsied “Curl Palm Claw” trying to convince people that the coin’s in the other hand. In one of her phases, Claudia used it as an incidental convincer to brush some loose hair behind her ear before coming back to take a coin. I mean, that’s just clever.

She should have gotten famous, but these days it’s impossible to find a clip of hers. And yet somebody in a slinky outfit doing a crummy colour change can get on TV and be voted to the next round of the contest, or however it is art’s being judged these days. Making matters worse is that sometimes you’ll hear praise about how women are no longer just the assistants, and while alright, fine, from an outside perspective I can see how that’s a nice image to have, but those magician’s assistants worked hard. They were never mere subordinates. That was all part of the show, and they were often required to do a ton of crazy things to help the magician pull off his stuff. Deception in the art requires that they be thought of as window-dressing in order to help protect the secret when it’s necessary, but if it’s safe to acknowledge that Pro Wrestling is fake, maybe we can also acknowledge that these women’s contributions to magic was very, very real.

Like, you’ll have to forgive the tone, but I still kind of feel this way. From the old ye olde…

[Moving on to] perhaps the people who get the biggest slap in the face from the Vagician phenomenon… the female assistants. I’m talking about the box-jumpers and floaters, the ones who know from the getgo that the better they do their job, the better the male magician looks. In many ways it’s a no-win scenario. If the illusion goes wrong, they take the blame for their incompetence, and if it goes well, little to none of the applause is theirs — this despite the fact that some of those same illusions demand nothing of the male performer while testing the boundaries of the woman’s strength, endurance and flexibility, and sometimes risk bodily harm. Don’t take my word for it… Watch “Women in Boxes”, and you’ll get a taste of the commitment they have to making the trick look good.

Anyways… Well, a few years have passed, and I’m trying to have an attitude adjustment over things like that. I mean, the argument can still be made, and perhaps even won, but after a while there are better ways to go about talking about it, ignoring the bad and shining a light on the good and whatnot. But where was I? Oh, right, it’s 2018, and your enlightened and progressive bloggist is surprised that a woman is doing a proper card stab in a book from over a century ago, with a real knife no less. Yikes. And to think I once thought of myself as a liberal.

Still, while it shouldn’t be a big deal, I’ll admit that I was thinking “attagirl!” the more of Mademoiselle Patrice I saw in the book. I mean, here she was doing the same tier of material that the guys were doing, right down the Chapeaugraphy chapter near the end. Incidentally, if you didn’t know what Chapeaugraphy was, neither did I. It’s essentially taking a hat and contorting it in order to create different impressions of various characters in society at the time. So there was the Mademoiselle again, showing that she was willing to get in on this action too. And was there I, feeling almost like I was right there along with her, in this art that I love. And I started wondering if maybe finding this was some sort of gift. Or perhaps a sign? We seem to be taking so many steps backwards as a society these days. Who knows, if they could do that, maybe, just maybe, we could figure out what it means to be ahead of our time again. Perhaps our ability to find real, human progress has always been with us, and something like this is just what we need to be reminded of it.

And right when I was practically able to feel this growing happiness begin to chip away at a lifetime of cynicism, I came across this…

Goddammit, Mademoiselle Patrice.