Penny Dreadfuls, Juvenile Crime, and Late-Victorian Moral Panic

Dick Turpin, Penny Dreadful, 1866-1868
Black Bess or The Knight of the Road, featuring Dick Turpin, 1866-1868.

The 1840s ushered in an era of luridly illustrated gothic tales which were marketed to a working-class Victorian audience.  These stories, told in installments and printed on inexpensive pulp paper, were originally only eight pages long and sold for just a penny – giving rise to the term “penny bloods” or “penny dreadfuls.”  With titles such as Varney the Vampire and Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, these types of publications were wildly popular, especially with young male readers, and it was not long before the Victorian public began to make a connection between various juvenile crimes and misdemeanors and the consumption of this (allegedly) depraved material.[…]Continue Reading

The Dog’s Nursemaid: An 1840 Case at the French Police Correctionelle

A Welcome Change by Henri Guillaume Schlesinger, mid-19th century.
A Welcome Change by Henri Guillaume Schlesinger, mid-19th century.

A September 8, 1840 edition of London’s Morning Post reports the “humorous story” of a case that came before a French Police Correctionelle.  The plaintiff in the case, a young nursemaid by the name of Virginie, is described rather flatteringly as “an exceedingly pretty little bonne.”  The defendant in the case, Virginie’s employer, a woman by the name of Madame Duchatenest, is cast in a somewhat harsher light.  Described as “a meagre and parchment-cheeked virgin,” she had been called to answer the charge of having brutally assaulted Virginie with a pair of fireplace pincers.[…]Continue Reading

Mad as a Hatter, an Adder, or an Oyster

Alice's Mad Tea Party by John Tenniel, 19th Century.
Alice’s Mad Tea Party by John Tenniel, 19th Century.

I’m guest posting today over at Geri Walton’s wonderful History of the 18th and 19th Centuries blog!  If you would like to learn more about the perils of 19th century mercury-based hat making and the origins of the popular phrase “as mad as a hatter,” do stop by and have a look at my new article Mad as a Hatter, an Adder, or an Oyster.  You can click through HERE.

The Scandalous Regency Era Criminal Conversation Case of Aston v. Elliot

Symptoms of Life in London, or Love, Law, and Physic by George Cruikshank,, 1821.(image via Wellcome Library.)
Symptoms of Life in London, or Love, Law, and Physic by George Cruikshank,, 1821.
(Image via Wellcome Library.)

In January of 1818, on the second page of a small Irish newspaper, was a brief article with the sensational headline: “Projected Divorce in High Life.”  This case, which would soon become notorious in both England and France, was not, in fact, a divorce.  It was an action for criminal conversation – a tort, long extinct, in which an aggrieved husband could make a claim for damages against the lover of his adulterous spouse.  These sorts of cases were always deliciously scandalous, and none more so than that of Aston v. Elliot – a case which involved noblemen, prostitutes, syphilis, a veteran of Waterloo, and some of the highest ranking members of the beau monde.[…]Continue Reading

Wolves in Medieval England: Guest Post by Regan Walker

On this week’s edition of Animals in Literature and History, I bring you bestselling author Regan Walker with a guest post on Wolves in Medieval England!

Wolf after sheep, Bestiario Medieval.
Wolf after sheep, Bestiario Medieval.

Their prevalence

Wolves were prevalent in England during the medieval era.  One of the earliest references to them is contained in a 6th century genealogy of the East Anglican founder of a dynasty called Wuffa, whose tribe was known as the Wuffings, or “wolf people”.  They were believed to have originated in Scandinavia.[…]Continue Reading

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