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The Victorian Underworld Paperback – 18 Sep 2014


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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: The Murder Room (18 Sept. 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1471916634
  • ISBN-13: 978-1471916632
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 2.5 x 12.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 466,675 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

'The author has a practised eye for the best anecdotes and presents amazing characters, some of whom come equipped with names that sound positively Dickensian ... a wonderful profile of Victorian London' (The Spectator )

'A fluent account of a subject which still has the power to elicit shivers of delighted disgust' (Daily Telegraph )

'Thomas writes with a historian's ironically neutral eye about brothels, pornography, forgery and serial killers, and includes a gripping account of the London-to-Paris mail train robbery, in which a gang got away with a quarter of a ton of gold bullion' (The Guardian )

'A wonderful profile of Victorian London' (The Spectator ) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

'A subject which still has the power to elicit shivers of delighted disgust' Daily Telegraph

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

25 of 25 people found the following review helpful By mr_ska TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 22 Dec. 2003
Format: Paperback
Much of what we are often told about the victorians makes them out to be hyper-virtuous, thoroughly industrious, and particularly progressive. This book shows the other side of the coin, exposing the rampant hypocrisy of the middle classes, and delighting in the details of life on the seedy side of the street.
We are treated to descriptions of many of the various con tricks and sharp practices that criminals developed to fleece the wealthy or just plain gullible that crossed their path. The extent of prostitution that is revealed almost boggles the mind, and the same people that were most often to be found proclaiming their own virtue and that of their peers were far too often found in the arms of one prostitute or another. Although what truly shocks is the prevalence of child prostitution and the great effort that was required to secure the principle of the age of consent in law, and even then at a frighteningly low age.
After reading this informative and often entertaining book you will be able to raise a wry smile the next time you hear politicians extolling the virtues of the victorians and crying out for a return to 'victorian values'. It makes you wonder just which values they mean.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By I Read, Therefore I Blog VINE VOICE on 6 Jun. 2007
Format: Paperback
This is a thoroughly absorbing look at the criminal underbelly of Victorian England and is too entertaining to be dismissed as an academic work of social history. Donald Thomas conveys a real sense of the time and the attitudes of the people living within it and he introduces readers interested in the subject matter to writers of the time - notably Mayhew - providing more material for those who wish to take it further.

If I had to quibble, I would say that I was less interested in the last couple of chapters looking at corruption in Scotland Yard and the reform of the police service, if only because as a subject matter I thought that it was narrowly focused (looking at the main example of police corruption at the time) and would have benefitted from a variety of smaller examples.

I also thought that the chapter on miscarriages of justice would perhaps have worked better as a book in its own right given that it is a fascinating subject. In particular, given the current fashion for looking at the intervention by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in two miscarriages of justice (made popular by Julian Barnes' novel Arthur and George) whilst it's interesting to read Thomas's account of these events because of current media overkill, you don't really learn anything new. I would stress that this is only because of the current media climate and not due to a lack of research or any lack in writing capability on Thomas's part and I would also stress that he wrote this book back in 1998, way before the current media interest.

There are some heart-breaking accounts within this text and you learn an awful lot about what people really thought 150 years ago. Thomas never fails to provide a human voice and there's a wry ironic voice in some of the stories that will make you laugh out loud.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Tom Williams on 29 Aug. 2012
Format: Paperback
This is a brilliant introduction to crime in Victorian England. It does draw rather heavily on Mayhew's 'London Labour and the London Poor', but, given that I hardly ever open my copy of the original, anything that summarises key points is appreciated.

The book starts by laying out the geography of the London underworld, a world of 'rookeries' and 'penny gaffs'. We meet the costers and are introduced to their interminable war with the police moving through the lowest strata of society via the prostitutes and the tramps, to the conmen, the safe breakers and the murderers.

Thomas's narrative veers here and there with side trips to take in music halls and race meetings, but though he often skims the surface of many of his subjects, he seems to have a remarkable understanding of his subject matter and the work is referenced with detailed footnotes.

The mix of sociological analysis and anecdote make this excellent background reading for anybody who wants to familiarise themselves with the world of the Victorian underclass.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By H. Callaghan VINE VOICE on 12 Jan. 2000
Format: Paperback
This book was a fascinating insight into a vanished world, complete with not only the safecrackers and prostitutes (the staples of criminal Victoriana) but also featuring a thousand and one trades of ill-repute, all with exotic sounding names, that simply do not exist anymore - running patterers, costers, etc. The section on the Great Train Robbery is absolutely riveting, and more appealing, in many ways, than the bowdlerised film version starring Sean Connery.
The sweeping variety of scams and con tricks featured generally in the book is also breathtaking, and the history of the debate on obscene publications in an eye-opening insight into this same debate today. Anyone interested in the period, particularly any novelists who need research, would do well to consult this. Very attractive cover too. I enjoyed this immensely.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Michelle shipman on 1 Mar. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An excellent book - history made alive. The truth of the Victorian underworld brought before the readers eyes - factual yet exciting.
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