On Saturday I started my review of The Invention of Murder – How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders with a post in which I discussed the importance of murder in the newspaper and plays of the century. I touched upon the painful development of the modern criminal trial. In this post I will continue by examining how
Flanders addressed the development of crime fiction in Victorian times.
|Photo of Judith Flanders by Clive Barda
It was interesting to read that Dickens in Bleak House and Wilkie Collins in The Woman in White both drew upon the murderess, Maria Manning, in writing those books.
Flanders has an extensive description of Manning and her crimes.
She offers definitions of crime fiction and sensation fiction and explores the origins of crime fiction in
From her descriptions of the books I concluded that
Flanders did not think much of Victorian crime fiction. There were not many positive comments.
She extensively discusses Dickens book after book as works involving crime fiction.
She effectively concludes with a recounting of the public fascination, more obsession, with Jack the Ripper. She points out the interest of the literate middle class was from a safe distance to the murders of the lower class women. Unlike a multitude of authors she does not attempt to identify Jack. She does show how the reams of newsprint on Jack demonstrated how murder sells in real life and fiction.
Blog readers need to know before starting the book that her descriptions of Victorian crime fiction are spoilers of virtually every book. She sets out full plots. Endings are freely discussed. If you are interested in reading Victorian crime fiction without summaries of the books it is best to skip over those sections of the book.
I found the detail excessive at times. Following all the permutations of print and theatre for decades about a murder made reading slow going in too many sections of the book. I think quite a few of the 466 pages could have been left to footnotes and produced a better narrative. I was glad I read the book. The analysis is solid and convincing. I learned a lot about murder, newspapers, law and crime fiction in the 1800’s.