A deeply engaging and completely original book about nineteenth-century Britain’s fascination with good quality murder.
Murder in nineteenth-century Britain was ubiquitous – not necessarily in quantity but in quality. This was the era of penny-bloods, early crime fiction and melodramas for the masses. This was a time when murder and entertainment were firmly entwined.
In this meticulously researched and compelling book, Judith Flanders, author of Consuming Passions, takes us back in time to explore some of the most gripping, gruesome and mind-boggling murders of the nineteenth-century. Covering the crimes (and myths) of Sweeney Todd and Jack the Ripper, as well as the lesser known but equally shocking acts of Burke and Hare, and Thurtell and Hunt, Flanders looks at how murder was regarded by the wider British population – and how it became a form of popular entertainment.
Filled to the brim with rich source material – ranging from studies of plays, novels and contemporary newspaper articles, A Social History of Murder brings to life a neglected dimension of British social history in a completely new and exciting way.
©2011 Judith Flanders (P)2011 HarperCollins Publishers Limited
"It is a world explored with much wit and insight…Flanders is excellent…It’s a rich mix [and]…fluently written…It has every chance of becoming a bestseller."(Sunday Telegraph)
I already have! I'd recommend this to anyone interested in the history of crime fiction, or of Victorian literature. There is a deep understanding of Victorian culture, along with a fascinating exploration of how the crimes of the day influenced many authors and books we now think of as classics, like Dickens, Hardy, Conan Doyle, and even Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker.
The way the author wove in the crimes gaining media attention and how theatre and literature responded to them. She includes amazing insights into the influences crimes had on Charles Dickens' stories that make me (generally lukewarm on Dickens) want to go back and explore him again.
The wit, warmth, and occasional sarcasm she brings to her narration perfectly match the author's tone in the book. Pitch-perfect, easy to listen to, and with a good sense of how to get across sensation and scandal.
The tale of one particular woman who was executed for a murder she almost certainly didn't commit -- the book goes into detail of all the flaws in the case against her and really highlights the pathos of her story.
This book weaves many threads together: the creation of the Metropolitan Police, social fears and prejudices, issues of class, the development of the crime fiction genre, the influence of real world events on popular fiction, concepts of justice, the development of forensic science, and journalistic ethics all get a say in this remarkably complex history of crime.
Avid reader of history, biography, and true crime.
It's difficult to review this book because nothing about it grabbed me, but I have no objective criticism of it. It is true to its title, and is indeed an excellent history of murder and how it was investigated, reported, 'solved', and punished in Victorian times. There are interesting cases and interesting characters and the book is well constructed and well written. Perhaps my inability to get involved stems from the fact that I find the primitive policing methods and prejudices of bygone eras a bit boring (and disturbing) compared with modern investigative and forensic techniques. The book is very competently read, although it seemed to me that the soft voice of the narrator would have been better suited to a romance or novel than a hard-hitting book about murder. Then again, that's subjective and not a valid criticism.
"How we once lived"
There's a wealth of background histrical research behind this book. It's well-read and has touches of levity. It's essentially a string of murder cases, with the "facts" compared/contrasted with contemporary newspaper, theatical and other opinion. The contrast between how things were done "then" and "now is highlighted. I would have welcomed some occasional editing and a little more overview to provide a chronological context for the "set piece" cases. That said, this is a book that will provide fresh material and insights for both the historian and the literary scholar.
This is a competently read version of the bestselling book. It is essentially a string of tales recounting murders and their treatment in the media during the Victorian era, some familiar (Murder in the Red Barn, Jack the Ripper).
Its strength lies in it's episodic nature allowing the listener to dip in and out without losing the thread.
Absolutely brilliant book, informative, knowledgable and interesting :) I've listened to this book at least 20 times and enjoyed every one.
The detail and facts!
I am generally not much of a non-fiction reader (or listener) and I chose this book purely by chance after going through a few months of reading murder/crime/mystery novels.
The author didn't shrink back from the facts of the cases or the methods of execution etc used in punishing murders.
I found the narrators voice pleasant to listen to.
I loved the comments that were included from the famous people of the day. There were letters from Wilkie Collins, Charles Dicken and many more on crimes of the time and executions they may have witnessed.
I found it fascinating when it was revealed how many of the cases of the times made it into their works as passing references and sometimes as more.
I did find some bits of the audio a little confusing as references would be made to past cases and I would spend the next five minutes trying to remember just what had happened with that one.
A truly fascinating listen on the justice (and not so just in some cases) system of old.
"Murder Victorian Style"
This is a well written documentary of murders from a bygone age. Stories of how murderers were found pre forensic science. How murderers even if they had committed suicide were dealt with. Fascinating insight of how people reacted to crime.
My favorite listen yet. Judith Flanders seamlessly meshes literature, theatre, history and crime - all in fascinating detail and with a tongue in cheek humour which is delightful. Lose yourself in the dark psyche of nineteenth century Britain, wonderfully brought to life in the melodious voice of Janice McKenzie. I never tire of listening to it.
"Well written and researched overview of 19th C murder."
Drawing mainly on crimes in E&W, with (of course) Burke & Hare, and Madeleine Smith, tried under Scots law, Flanders develops the theme of attitudes to murder, in courts, executions, public and private, media coverage, forensic science, fiction, and police expertise and service development.
Unsurprisingly, social class affected how suspects were treated (and being seen as Irish, or Catholic, would bring the wrath of now respectable newspapers like "The Observer" down on the side of the hangman, before the trial was begun!) The better off gloried in gory descriptions in papers, the "lower orders" in broadsides - flyers - pop-up theatre, too, or West End plays of melodramatic plot. Murder tourism and "relic" commerce flourished!
Fortunately rules of evidence and contempt have evolved. I'd hate to think what a working-class tabloid of our day, like the Mail, could do to justice given the same licence!
The police began in order to maintain order, not solve crime, and thankfully they proved able to tackle social unrest with truncheons, not the swords and guns of the soldiers who'd done the job before, so their role evolved.
I enjoyed this approach to 19th C crime and punishment, well read, and thought provoking.
"Good story, shame about delivery"
I read this book beforehand and thoroughly enjoyed it. I looked forward to listening... This is the second and last book I will download that is narrated by Anna Bentinck. Her narration is rather insipid at the best of times but it becomes especially unbearable when dialogue is involved. She appears to believe that she is a master of accents and voices; she is not. Her forays into regionality are at best unnecessary, mostly distracting, sometimes toe-curling. I'm glad I had read it first...
This audiobook was fascinating. The amount of research that must have gone into it was mindblowing - as was some of the antics of 19th century judges and 'journalists'.
"From the gutter to the gallows"
This book is well-researched and full of 'true-life' crimes! It manages to bring to life a by-gone age where people were just like us full of jealousy, love, spite and greed but where people had a profoundly different mind-set concerning attitudes to crime. The author explains this very well especially in the writing on infanticide. By focusing on this one aspect of life the author brings to life a much broader spectrum of life in Victorian times. Indirectly it also shows the 'development' of the gutter press.
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