Memoirs of Robert-Houdin by Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin

Tr. by Sir F.C.L. Wraxall

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I downloaded this from the internet archive, as research for something I’m writing, I think its out of print. It is the story of Robert Houdin a Magician in France in the 19th Century – he is thought to be the father of modern magic and illusion. The story starts in his youth, how he trained as a clockmaker and then met a traveling magician who he befriended, before learning the tricks of the trade. After this opening section, there isn’t really an over aching narrative and the book is largely sequential anecdotes about his stage performances and magic tricks – mostly how they nearly went wrong and how he salvaged them through his quick thinking and skill. Often he reveals how certain illusions were done after discussing them. I found the characters and the world of the 19th Century travelling shows and magicians particularly interesting. The first section in which talks about his youth and the life of his mentors Torrini and Antonio, is very good, and I recognised elements borrowed and reshaped for ‘The Prestige. ( – this seems to have strongly influenced it – I am judging from the movie not the book.) Robert Houdin does tend to blow his own trumpet (there are lots of performances to astounded royalty) and I think you have to take some of the stuff with a pinch of salt, but altogether a very interesting autobiography.

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