Reading the Tarot in Nerval’s La Main enchantée

Research output: Other contribution


This paper explores Gérard de Nerval’s engagement with tarot images in one of his early stories, La Main enchantée (1832). I argue that, in this text, Nerval exploits the paradoxical associations of mysticism and masquerade which characterise tarot cards, in order to elaborate different ‘selves’ and creative roles. Despite longstanding rumours that they date back to ancient Egypt, historians generally agree that tarot cards originated in Northern Italy in the fifteenth century. Until the late eighteenth century, they were used only as playing cards. However, by the early nineteenth century, tarot cards – along with the myth of their ancient origins – had been incorporated into the French occult tradition. In spite of their arcane associations, they were produced for mass consumption using woodcuts, and later through lithography, by printing houses such as the Imagerie d’Épinal. Thus, at the time when Nerval was writing, tarot cards simultaneously belonged to a supposedly ancient esoteric belief system and to a popular nineteenth-century print tradition. In La Main enchantée, Nerval plays with the ironic potentialities inherent in these incompatible associations while, at the same time, harnessing the themes of destiny, success, and failure that tarot cards evoke, and which are central to his writings as a whole.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherTrinity College Dublin
Publication statusPublished - 2015


Dive into the research topics of 'Reading the Tarot in Nerval’s La Main enchantée'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this