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tÉlÉcharger eisenheim the illusionist short story pdf

S T E V E N MILLHAUSER
isenheim the Illusionist
as a fateful sign.
Eisenheim, n6 Eduard Abramowitz, was born in Bratislava in 1859
1860. Little is known of his early years, o r indeed of his entire life outside
realm of illusion. For the scant facts we are obliged to rely o n the
memoirs of magicians, o n comments in contempo
trade periodicals, o n promotional material and br
284
EISENHEIM THE ILLUSIONIST
and there the diary entry of a countess or ambassador records attendance at
a performance in Paris, Cracow, Vienna. Eisenheim's father was a highly
respected cabinetmaker,whose ornamental gilt cupboards and skillfully carved
lowboys with lion-paw feet and brass handles shaped like snarling lions graced
the halls of the gentry of Bratislava. The boy was the eldest of four children;
like many Rrarislavan Jews.the family spoke German and called their city
Pressburg, although they understood as much Slovak and Magyar as was
necessary for the proper conduct of business. Eduard went to work early in
his father's shop. For the rest of his life he would retain a fondness for smooth
pieces of wood joined seamlessly by mortise and tenon. By the age of seventeen
he was himself a skilled cabinetmaker, a fact noted more than once by fellow
magicians who admired Eisenheim's skill in constructing trick cabinets of
breathtaking ingenuity. The young craftsman was already a passionate amateur
magician, who is said to have entertained family and friends with card sleights
and a disappearing-ringtrick that required a small beechwood box of his own
construction. He would place a borrowed ring inside, fasten the box tightly
with twine, and quietly remove the ring as he handed the box to a spectator.
The beechwood box, with its secret panel, was able to withstand the most
minute examination.
A chance encounter with a traveling magician is said to have been the
cause of Eisenheim's lifelong passion for magic. The story goes that one day,
returning from school, the boy saw a man in black sitting under a plane tree.
The man called him over and lazily, indifferently, removed from the boy's ear
first one coin and then another, and then a third, coin after coin, a whole
handful of coins, which suddenly turned into a bunch of red roses. From the
roses the man in black drew out a white billiard ball, which turned into a
wooden flute that suddenly vanished. One version of the story adds that the
man himself then vanished, along with the plane tree. Stories, like conjuring
tricks, are invented because history is inadequate to our dreams, but in this
case it is reasonable to suppose that the future master had been profoundly
affected by some early experience of conjuring. Eduard had once seen a magic
shop, without much interest; he now returned with passion. On dark winter
mornings on the way to school he would remove his gloves to practice manipu-
STEVEN MILLHAUSER
lating balls and coins with chilled fingers in the pockets
enchanted his three sisters with intricate shadowgraphs repr
stiltskin and Rapunzel, American buffaloes
Later a local conjurer called Ignazc Molna
of coordinating movements of the eye and
year-old boy carried an egg on a soda straw all the way to Br
back. Much later, when all this was far behind him, the Mast
gloomily in the corner of a Viennese apa
in his honor, and reaching up wearily he would startle his hostess by prod
from the air five billiard balls that he proceeded to juggle flawlessly.
But who can unravel the mystery of
bending it away from its former course in one i
seems to have accepted his fate slowly. It was
disturbing knowledge of his difference. At the age of twe
an expert cabinetmaker who did occasional parlor tricks.
As if suddenly, Eisenheim appeared at a theater in Vienna and began
exhilarating and fatal career. The brilliant newcomer was twenty-eight yea
old. In fact, contemporary records show that t
had appeared in private performances for at least a year before movin
Austrian capital. Although the years preceding the first private perfor
remain mysterious, it is clear that Abramowi
more and more fully to magic, by way of the trick chests and c
had begun to supply to local magicians. Eisen
proceeded slowly and cautiously, step by step,
the right to be daring, he would take a sud
The first public performances were noted less for their daring than
their subtle mastery of the stage illusions of the day, although even then t
were artful twists and variations. One of Eisenheim's early successes was
Mysterious Orange Tree, a feat made famous by Robert-Houdin. A
handkerchief was placed in a small box a
audience. An assistant strode onto the stage, bearing in his arms a small gr
orange tree in a box. He placed the box on the magician's table and step
away. At a word from Eisenheim, accompanied by a pass of his wand, blosso
began to appear on the tree. A moment later, oranges began to emer
EISENHEIM THE ILLUSIONIST
Eisenheim plucked several and handed them to members of the audience.
Suddenly two butterflies rose from the leaves, carrying a handkerchief. The
spectator, opening his box, discovered that his handkerchief had disappeared;
somehow the butterflies had found it in the tree. The illusion depended on
two separate deceptions: the mechanical tree itself, which produced real flowers, real fruit, and mechanical butterflies by means of concealed mechanisms;
and the removal of the handkerchief from the trick box as it was handed to
the spectator. Eisenheim quickly developed a variation that proved popular:
the tree grew larger each time he covered it with a red silk cloth, the branches
produced oranges, apples, pears, and plums, at the end a whole flock of
colorful, real butterflies rose up and fluttered over the audience, where children screamed with delight as they reached up to snatch the delicate silken
shapes, and at last, under a black velvet cloth that was suddenly lifted, the tree
was transformed into a bird-cage containing the missing handkerchief.
At this period, Eisenheim wore the traditional silk hat, frock coat, and
cape and performed with an ebony wand tipped with ivory. The one distinctive
note was his pair of black gloves. He began each performance by stepping
swiftly through the closed curtains onto the stage apron, removing the gloves,
and tossing them into the air, where they turned into a pair of sleek ravens.
Early critics were quick to note the young magician's interest in uncanny
effects, as in-hispopular Phantom Portrait. On a darkened stage, a large blank
canvas was illuminated by limelight. As Eisenheim made passes with his right
hand, the white canvas gradually and mysteriously gave birth to a brighter and