Penny Dreadfuls and other Victorian Horrors
An illustrated history
First edition. Hardback in dustwrapper. 30.5 × 21.5cm, 125pp
Some of the lurid tales issued in penny parts followed in the tradition of the Gothic romances of the eighteenth century; others were inspired by gallows literature—the broadsheets and the spurious criminal biographies and death-cell confessions that were hawked around at public hangings. The "dreadfuls" were published strictly for profit, and a successful tale would be spun out for hundreds of episodes, with horror piled on horror to hold the interest of the semi-literate readers. In this entertaining book, the author focuses on some of the most famous titles. Dyed-in-the-wool villains, real and imaginary, are brought to vivid life, among them Varney the Vampyre, Sawney Beane the Man-Eater, Sweeney Todd the Demon Barber, Dick Turpin, Jack Sheppard, Charles Peace, and Spring-Heeled Jack. Also examined are the rousing boys' stories which replaced the "dreadfuls," featuring such heroes as Jack Harkaway, the resourceful schoolboy adventurer. We enter the world of the enterprising publishers who did not scruple to plagiarize popular novels and who having made a fortune, then became pious and respectable. The text is complemented by examples of the woodcuts which, always melodramatic and often borrowed from earlier, quite different stories, helped coax hard-earned pennies from prospective readers' pockets.
A good copy but with some blotchy foxing to the prelims, and a little tanning to the pages and wrapper's edges. Otherwise the book remains in strong readable condition.