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


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.

By the 1880s, concern over penny dreadfuls leading children into lives of crime and vice sparked what theLongman Companion to Victorian Fiction describes as a “middle-class moral panic.”  Many urged that the publication and consumption of penny dreadfuls be…

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

6 thoughts on “Penny Dreadfuls, Juvenile Crime, and Late-Victorian Moral Panic

  1. First these Penny Dreadfuls, then VHS video nasties, and now computer games. They always look for something to attribute society’s evils to. A very interesting read though.

    *Update on The Last Kingdom.*
    Not bad at all. A suitably hunky hero, nice representations of 10th century life and habits, with Danes who are satisfyingly cruel and ruthless. The battle scenes are good, as they are not overblown, and everywhere looks muddy, dirty, and damp. The standout for me is the performance by David Dawson, as a very believable King Alfred. Very enjoyable still, after six episodes.

    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

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