Deadly Encounters

Deadly Encounters: Two Victorian Sensations

Richard D. Altick
Copyright Date: 1986
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Deadly Encounters
    Book Description:

    In July 1861 London newspapers excitedly reported two violent crimes, both the stuff of sensational fiction. One involved a retired army major, his beautiful mistress and her illegitimate child, blackmail and murder. In the other, a French nobleman was accused of trying to kill his son in order to claim the young man's inheritance. The press covered both cases with thoroughness and enthusiasm, narrating events in a style worthy of a popular novelist, and including lengthy passages of testimony. Not only did they report rumor as well as what seemed to be fact, they speculated about the credibility of witnesses, assessed character, and decided guilt. The public was enthralled. Richard D. Altick demonstrates that these two cases, as they were presented in the British press, set the tone for the Victorian "age of sensation." The fascination with crime, passion, and suspense has a long history, but it was in the 1860s that this fascination became the vogue in England. Altick shows that these crimes provided literary prototypes and authenticated extraordinary passion and incident in fiction with the "shock of actuality." While most sensational melodramas and novels were by lesser writers, authors of the stature of Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, Trollope, Hardy, and Wilkie Collins were also influenced by the spirit of the age and incorporated sensational elements in their work.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0848-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-2)
    R. D. A.
  4. CHAPTER ONE The Dawning Age of Sensation
    (pp. 3-10)

    Some applications of the word, at least in England, were new in 1861; the social phenomenon they referred to was not. Sixty years earlier, William Wordsworth, in, of all places, the preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads, deplored the “craving for extraordinary incident,” the “degrading outrageous stimulation” that affected his countrymen. The human desire to be shocked or thrilled, so long as whatever danger there was did not imminently affect the beholder, had always been a normal accompaniment to life in society, perhaps intensified in modem times, as Wordsworth hazarded, by “the accumulation of men in cities” and...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Deadly Encounters
    (pp. 11-112)

    The next morning’s newspapers carried the “unaccountable” confrontation as their main story. The British press had not yet gone in for banner headlines, but its single-column captions made up in concerted drama what they lacked in size. They drew from a common, though limited, fount of sensational epithets. TERRIBLE TRAGEDY IN THE STRAND, shouted the Daily Telegraph. MURDEROUS ENCOUNTER IN NORTHUMBERLAND STREET, echoed the Morning Post. FRIGHTFUL ENCOUNTER IN NORTHUMBERLAND STREET, cried the Times. DEADLY ENCOUNTER IN NORTHUMBERLAND STREET, FEARFUL STRUGGLE FOR LIFE, added the Morning Chronicle. EXTRAORDINARY AND DESPERATE AFFRAY IN THE STRAND was the Daily News’s variation on...

  6. CHAPTER THREE The Press Responds
    (pp. 113-130)

    Every murder of true stop-press quality led Victorian editorial writers to study the nation’s image in the red-misted mirror of crime. Indeed, an industrious student could compile from the newspapers’ commentary on the dozen most celebrated Victorian murders a valuable of contemporary psychological and social opinion. Although the twin sensations of the summer of 1861 did not qualify as murders, they evoked more than the ordinary spate of editorial interpretation. Only a week after they leaped into the headlines, the Spectator (a of opinion, not a newspaper) reported, correctly if a bit cynically, that “the press teems with moral but...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR From Fact to Fiction
    (pp. 131-144)

    From the beginning, the press dramatized the twin sensations had fallen into its lap in the way it felt would best describe their quality. Each, it proclaimed, was a case of life imitating—indeed, outdoing—art. “Now,” said the Sunday Times a fortnight after the in Northumberland Street, “let a powerful writer of take those facts, and work them up into an elaborate story, retaining the situation and the time of the event, and not exaggerating its in the slightest possible degree; and the critics of the country all denounce his work for the monstrous improbabilities on which had relied...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE The Novel Experience
    (pp. 145-158)

    The “sensation” in the melodrama of the 1860s involved not only the addition of athletic and mechanical devices as sources of excitement but the historical context in which these were presented. In deference to a shift in the audience’s tastes, playwrights had been gradually turning away from stories laid in the past and making a point and virtue of locating their actions in the present time. This intensified interest in using the stage as a mirror of contemporary life affected the melodrama as much as it did other theatrical genres. Now that realistic sets were available to reproduce the visual...

    (pp. 159-160)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 161-164)