The Victorian underworld

by Thomas, Donald, 1926-

Format: Print Book 1998
Availability: Available at 1 Library 1 of 2 copies
Available (1)
Location Collection Call #
Sewickley Public Library Nonfiction 364.942 THO 1998
Location  Sewickley Public Library
Collection  Nonfiction
Call Number  364.942 THO 1998
Unavailable (1)
Location Collection Status
Brentwood Library Nonfiction CHECKED OUT
Location  Brentwood Library
Collection  Nonfiction
William Makepeace Thackeray once wrote that the wonders of the Victorian underworld "have been lying by your door and mine ever since we had a door of our own." Donald Thomas here pushes open that door to reveal a world at once both strange and strangely familiar, inviting casual voyeur and serious historian alike to cross its threshold.

Applying his talent for colorful biography to chronicle an entire age, Thomas shows us an underworld through the eyes of its inhabitants. Defined by night houses and cigar divans, populated by street people like the running-patterer with his news of murder, and entertainers like the Fire King, the underworld was an insular yet diffuse community, united by its deep hatred of the police. In its gin shops and taverns, thrived thieves and beggars, cheats, forgers, and pickpockets, preying on rich and poor alike.

Career criminals often showed a craftsmanship that would put their descendants to shame. It took true professionals to remove the modern equivalent of twenty million dollars from the Bank of England. In one case, conspirators even recruited officers from Scotland Yard.

Those who failed in such enterprises found themselves in the convict hulks, where the annual mortality rate might reach 40 percent, or in the new prisons, their faces masked and identified only by numbers. Rich in anecdote and vividly recounted, The Victorian Underworld brings the past alive like few recent works of history.

Published Reviews
Booklist Review: "Victorian society was acutely schizophrenic. A bare ankle was considered immodest in polite circles, yet it was customary for young men from those circles to receive their "education" among the countless brothels, opium dens, and shady "entertainment palaces" that constituted the nightlife of the lower classes. Thomas, who has specialized in writing about Victorian society and culture, paints a vivid portrait of a seamy and brutal but frequently fascinating underside of society. It is a diverse world of pimps, con men, petty thieves, and even relatively sophisticated crooks, all united in a hatred for legitimate authority and in a Darwinian struggle for survival. Thomas does not shun sound research techniques, but he also appreciates and effectively utilizes considerable anecdotal information to illustrate his points. Although he may occasionally sympathize with the plight of those who make up this "other England," he resists the trap of sentimentalizing or romanticizing them. The result is a solid piece of social history that should dispel many illusions about the Victorian era. --Jay Freeman"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review: ""A vivid tableau of debauchery and sadism" is the way Thomas describes the newspaper and magazine coverage of Victorian prostitution, but he may as well be describing his own book. The author of biographies of Lewis Carroll and the Marquis de Sade, true crime books and mysteries surveys the seedier lives and misdeeds of 19th century England's down and out, middle class and upper crust. Though much of what Thomas covers is factually interesting‘for instance, the popularity and fame of hangmen or the deviousness of a blackmailer‘he gives little momentum to the reading and little sense of depth or coherence to the big picture. Early on he describes the poor's hostility toward police and law courts, and in so doing, has the tact not to overemphasize obvious parallels to today's cities. A hero of the far-casting book is aristocratic "Walter," the otherwise anonymous author of My Secret Life, which chronicles his almost countless sexual liaisons. "In scrupulous detail, Walter documents the girl's life. As self-consciously as any missionary or social investigator, though still in bed with her, he asks Kitty about being `gay,' which was the common Victorian term for being a prostitute." Thomas convincingly shows that "given the strength of her characterization and dialogue, she might otherwise have stepped from the pages of Bleak House or Our Mutual Friend." The best chapters, including the one on "The Great Bullion Robbery," deserve or have received books of their own; Thomas's treatment of his topic is too little, too wide. 60 illustrations. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved"
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Additional Information
Subjects Crime -- Sociological aspects -- England.
Criminals -- England -- Social conditions.
Crime -- England -- History -- 19th century.
Crime -- England -- Case studies.
England -- Social conditions -- 19th century.
Publisher New York :New York University Press,1998
Contributors Mayhew, Henry, 1812-1887.
Language English
Notes Includes material from the life stories of criminals as recorded by Henry Mayhew.
Includes index.
Description 346 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
ISBN 0814782388
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