Balloon Madness

November 2017
8 colour, 25 black and white illustrations
366 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
Boydell Press
BISAC HIS037050, HIS015000

Balloon Madness

Flights of Imagination in Britain, 1783-1786

Clare Brant

eBook for Handhelds
In this sparkling account, Brant uses the brief moment of balloon madness as a way into a wide-ranging exploration of Enlightenment sensibility in Britain.
"All the world is mad about balloons" observers recorded during the craze in Britain that lasted from 1783 to 1786. Excitement about the new invention spread rapidly, inspiring hopes, visions, fashions, celebrations, satires, imaginary heroics and real adventures. In this sparkling account, Brant uses the brief moment of balloon madness as a way into a wide-ranging exploration of Enlightenment sensibility in Britain.

She follows the craze as it travelled around the country, spread through crowds and shaped the daily lives and dreams of individuals. From the levity of fashion, political satire and light verse inspired by balloons, she shows how wonders of air and speed also connected with the deeper preoccupations and anxieties of eighteenth-century Britain. An aerial 'view from above' provided new moral perspectives on the place of humans in the universe and the nature of their aspirations; while the success of the French, leaders in aeronautics, unsettled national identity with visions of a new world order.

The practical limitations of balloons soon put an end to one set of possibilities, but their effect on popular culture was more enduring, with meaning even today. With a cast including kings, politicians, charlatans, pickpockets, the beau monde, duellists and animals, Balloon Madness celebrates the excitement and fun of this brief but world-changing episode of history and its long afterlife in our imagination.

CLARE BRANT is Professor of Eighteenth-Century Literature and Culture at King's College London.

Table of Contents

Madness and Balloons
One Man's Balloon Madness
People and Places
Crowds, Criminals and Charlatans
Gods and Heroes
The Sublime
Back to Earth: Parachutes and Balloons, 1785 and 1802
Ascending Again: Balloons in Flights of Imagination


An excellent book that will enrich the work of anyone working on the period. BRITISH SOCIETY FOR LITERATURE & SCIENCE

Full of lively personalities and striking anecdotes.this book is a fascinating and comprehensive account. ISRAEL BOOK REVIEW

Provides a rich, literary analysis of ballooning in Britain. AEROSPACE

Brant's investigation goes far beyond the classic balloon literature....A wealth of sources is deployed with a light touch. TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT

This beguiling book is an absolute gem. Written with a lightness of touch that belies the weight and even magnitude of what it has to say, Balloon Madness has all the buoyancy and ludic unpredictability of the object at its centre. That object, is nothing more - or less - than the balloon itself, which emerges here as a comic epic hero of Enlightenment science and technology.
Brant isolates three years in the 1780s when this remarkable invention, pioneered by the French and flamboyantly commandeered by an Italian, nonetheless captured the very specifically British imagination. Yet as she charts the balloon's rise and fall in Britain, Brant also delivers a high-spirited micro-history of the Enlightenment itself: the balloon is a device for thinking - and, more important, imagining - that period's boundless paradoxes and possibilities." Jayne Lewis, Professor of English, University of California, Irvine and author of Air's Appearance: Literary Atmosphere in British Fiction, 1660-1794

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