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Crime Fiction

From the 9pm Sunday crime drama to True Crime podcasts to The Woman in White and Lady Audley's Secret, our society loves to consume the juicy details of criminal cases. What makes crime fiction and reporting so engaging? What can literature tell us about society's attitudes to and judgement of crimes?

Questions for discussion:
  • Does literature reflect or shape society's attitudes to crime and criminals?
  • How are crimes, criminals and the police represented in the press and fiction?
  • What does reading Victorian crime novels add to an understanding of criminality in this period?
  • What caused moral panics and how were these treated by the press? Does this change over time?
  • How useful is the press as a source for studying sensational crime?
Optional intro material:
Primary reading:

Secondary reading:

Further Reading

  • Maurizio Ascari, A Counter-History of Crime Fiction: Supernatural, Gothic, Sensational
  • R. Breton, 'Crime reporting in Chartist newspapers', Media History, 2013
  • Christopher E. Casey, 'Common Misperceptions: The Press and Victorian Views of Crime', Journal of Interdisciplinary History 41 (2011), pp. 367-391
  • J. Carter Wood, '“Those who have had trouble can sympathise with you”: Press writing, reader responses and a murder trial in interwar Britain', Journal of Social History, 43 (2009), pp. 339–462.
  • James Chapman and Matthew Hilton, 'From Sherlock Holmes to James Bond : Masculinity and national identity in British popular fiction', in Stephen Chaunce et al, Relocation Britishness
  • Phillip Chassaigne, 'Popular representations of crime: the crime broadside - a subculture of violence in Victorian Britain?', Journal of Crime, History, and Societies 3 (1999).
  • Philip Collins, Dickens and Crime
  • Carolyn A Conley, ‘Wars among savages: homicide and ethnicity in the Victorian United Kingdom’, Journal of British Studies, 2005
  • Michael Cook, Narratives of Enclosure in Detective Fiction
  • Jennifer Davis, 'The London garrotting panic of 1862', in V A C Gatrell, Bruce Lenman and Geoffrey Parker, Crime and the Law
  • Mary Beth Emmerichs, ‘Getting away with murder? Homicide and the coroners in 19th century London’, Social Science History, 2001
  • Clive Emsley, 'Violent crime in England in 1919: post-war anxieties and press narratives', Continuity and Change, 23 (2008), pp. 173–195.
  • Emelyne Godfrey, Masculinity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature
  • Russell Grigg, 'Getting away with murder, infanticide in Wales', Local Historian, 2014
  • Mary S Hartman, ‘Murder for respectability: the case of Madeline Smith’, Victorian Studies, 1973
  • Peter King, 'Making crime news: newspapers, violent crime and the selective reporting of Old Bailey trials in the late eighteenth century', Crime, History and Societies, 13 (2009), pp. 91–116.
  • Peter King, 'Newspaper reporting and attitudes to crime and justice in late eighteenth and early nineteeth century London', Continuity and Change, 22 (2007), pp. 73–112
  • Peter King, ‘Newspaper Reporting, Prosecution Practice and Perceptions of Urban Crime; The Colchester Crime Wave of 1765’,Continuity and Change, 2 (1987), pp. 423-454
  • Judith Knelman, ‘Women murderers in Victorian Britain’, History Today, 1998
  • Stephen Knight, Crime Fiction, 1800-2000: Detection, Death, Diversity
  • Nicola Lacey, Women, Crime and Character: from Moll Flanders to Tess of the D'Urbervilles
  • David Lemmings and Claire Walker, Moral Panics and the Media in Early Modern England
  • Andrew Mangham, Violent women and sensation fiction : crime, medicine and Victorian popular culture
  • Josephine McDonagh, Child Murder and British Culture, 1720-1900
  • Lee Michael-Berger, 'Hilarious Homicides: Satirizing Sensational Murders in Late Nineteenth-Century London', Journal of Victorian Culture, 26 (2021), pp. 227-243.
  • Vivien Miller and Helen Oakley (ed.), Cross Cultural Connections in Crime Fiction, ch by Goldsmith
  • Robert Morrison and Daniel Roberts, Thomas de Quincey (chapter on 'On Murder')
  • Martin Priestman, The Cambridge Companion to Crime Fiction
  • Lynn Pykett, The Sensation Novel: from The Woman in White to the Moonstone
  • Lynn Pykett, The 'Improper Feminine': the Women's Sensation Novel and the New Woman Writing
  • Lisa Rodensky, The Crime in Mind: Criminal Responsibility and the Victorian Novel
  • Haia Shpayer-Makiv, 'Revisiting the detective figure in late Victorian and Edwardian fiction', Law, Crime and History, 1 (2011)
  • Anthea Trodd, Domestic Crime in the Victorian Novel
  • Jessica R. Valdez, Plotting the News in the Victorian Novel (Edinburgh University Press, 2020) chapter 3 '"The end is no longer hidden": News, Fate, and the Sensation Novel'.
  • Richard Ward, 'Print culture, moral panic and the administration of the law: the London crime wave of 1744', Crime, History and Society, 16 (2012)
  • Martin Weiner, ‘Murder and the modern British historian’, Albion, 2004
  • J. Carter Wood, '“Those who have had trouble can sympathise with you”: Press writing, reader responses and a murder trial in interwar Britain', Journal of Social History, 43 (2009), pp. 339–462.
  • Heather Worthington, The Rise of the Detective in Early Nineteenth Century Popular Fiction
  • Deborah Wynne, The Sensation Novel and the Victorian Family Magazine