Judith Flanders moved to near the very top of my `must read' list several years ago with her breakout "Inside the Victorian Home," in my judgment one of the best books ever written on the Victorian era in Britain. She followed up with "Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain," which, though well-done and as comprehensive as one could hope for, was not as interesting or compelling as "Inside." Never daunted, I bought her newest, "The Invention of Murder," as soon as it became available, and I must say, I'm again a bit disappointed.
The premise is not only sound, but downright intriguing. The confluence in the early 19th Century of at least the beginnings of leisure time among the laboring classes, the introduction and slow but inexorable growth of mass circulation newspapers, and the much-deferred official attention to not only the detection but the prevention of crime combined to spawn a febrile public interest in significant misdeeds, and, as might be expected, particularly murder.
Flanders undertakes in this book to portray in great detail the most notorious killings and proceeds to paint a vivid picture of how they were given lives of their own, if you will, through serialization, fictionalization, dramatization, and every other `zation' one can conceive. My problem with the work is not its composition because few writers of History can equal Flanders' easy but elegant writing style.Read more ›
Although the title of Judith Flanders's new book is an exaggeration, she goes a long way toward showing that it is not an extreme one. It is _The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime_ (Harper Press, UK), and of course no culture or time "invented" murder. What happened in England during the nineteenth century, however, is that murder became a topic of national interest. She quotes Thomas de Quincey, who wrote in 1826 in _On Murder Considered As One Of The Fine Arts_, about how pleasant it is to read about crimes afflicting someone else; she writes that "... crime, especially murder, is very pleasant to think about in the abstract: it is like hearing blustery rain on the windowpane when sitting indoors." And people did hear about murders in various ways, some of them new for the time; Flanders seems to have read every broadsheet and bad novel that sprang from the many murders she describes here. People enjoyed the shivery sensation that comes with hearing about murderers who afflicted others, and they also enjoyed vicariously the chase after the culprits, something that was never emphasized before because there had been no real detectives or police forces. Murder during the period she describes was changed into a popular entertainment, and not just in "penny-blood" (later known as "penny-dreadful") novels; by the end of the era, Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were all getting in on the act.
Some of the crimes here are famous; Flanders winds up with a final chapter that includes the ravages of Jack the Ripper, which in her telling seems a murder spree culmination of all the ones she describes preceding it.Read more ›
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Bought this on the strength of some very complimentary newspaper reviews, and discovered a thoroughly-researched, heavily-evidenced study of murder and its coverage in the media of the time, linked to the public's insatiable appetite for scandal and gore (interesting how little things change!). Flanders meticulous study works methodically through how murder was exploited to line the pockets of newspaper hacks,the income of magazines, souvenir sellers, the theatre, Madame Tussaud's, and to influence the Victorian novel, and give rise to the 'crime novel', with both Wilkie Collins, Dickens and many others re-working real-life characters into the murderers and victims of their books.
At the same time Flanders charts the impact on the police force of the time, from its hotly debated establishment as a 'preventative measure', then through its disjointed local jurisdiction which inhibited any notion of criminal pursuit, to its development as a detection agency, using the new-fangled wonders of the telegraph to track down their quarry. Endless murders are examined, and the appalling nature of the court system, and the general absence of a defence counsel, which meant innocent characters were condemned to the gallows, while those with money (and the right social class) walked free. The bias and complacency exhibited by judges, doctors and coroners alike truly make the blood run cold.
I found this well written, with the occasional glimpses of humour necessary to leaven some of the horrific injustices revealed.Read more ›
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