"I had the view of a castle of romance inhabited by a rosy sprite"

Sprites – a vague category of supernatural entities that includes elves and fairies – are capricious creatures, equally capable of helping or hindering mortals. Puck, the “merry wanderer of the night” in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (c. 1590-96), also known as Robin Goodfellow, exemplifies their mischievous, elusive, prank-loving race.

Fairy-folk were beloved by the Victorians and inspired the paintings of genre artists such as Richard Dadd, Richard Doyle, John Anster Fitzgerald and Joseph Noel Paton. The aura of enchantment with which these artists imbue their subjects clearly influences the governess’s perception of Flora – but, as we shall see, she gradually comes to align the children with an altogether more demonic class of supernatural beings.

 

Puck and the Fairies (from Midsummer Night’s Dream) (1840)
Public DomainPuck and the Fairies (from Midsummer Night’s Dream) (1840) - Credit: Richard Dadd