The Strange Fiction of Oliver Onions

Oliver Onions did not believe in ghosts. Nonetheless, as a prolific author of popular fiction across genres in the first half of the twentieth century, if he is remembered at all these days, it is as a writer of startling and original ghost stories. Historically, these were not easy to find, until they were reissued by Wordsworth as part of ...

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Ainsworth’s Guy Fawkes

Nowadays, the image of Guy Fawkes – the man who tried to blow up Parliament on November 5, 1605, assassinating James I so a popular revolt could install a Catholic monarch – has become synonymous with anti-establishment protest. This modern symbolism began in the British comic strip V for Vendetta, a dystopian revenge tragedy ...

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Addicted to the Supernatural

In the spring of 1848, the Fox family of Hydesville, a desolate New York hamlet, was nightly plagued by disembodied knocking. Events escalated on the evening of March 31, when John and Margaret Fox heard loud noises emanating from the room above in which their children, Katherine and Margaretta, were sleeping.

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The Mysteries of London

In his 1852 memoir, John Ross Dix attributed the prodigious popularity of The Mysteries of London to the fact that the penny serial ‘ministered to the depraved appetites of the lower classes,’ while ‘murders, seductions, robberies, horrors of all sorts, spiced with the abuse of the upper orders, formed the staple of the story.’

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The Lancashire Witches

The Lancashire Witches is set on and around Pendle Hill in early-seventeenth century Lancashire, with an ‘Introduction’ set in 1536. The Cistercian monk Borlace Alvetham is falsely accused of witchcraft by his rival, Brother John Paslew, and condemned to a lingering death. Alvetham escapes by selling his soul to Satan ...

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Reading War Poetry

‘To The Warmongers’ returns to the theme of the people of the so-called ‘Home Front,’ whom Sassoon by this point despised for tolerating such carnage so patriotically and unquestioningly. It was written while he was convalescing at Denmark Hill Hospital, but considered too angry and uncomfortable for inclusion in his collection Counter-Attack ...

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Life in London from Egan to Dickens

When the Victorians wanted to attack an author, they would invariably draw comparisons with the Regency writer Pierce Egan.  John Forster, for instance, in a damning Examiner review of W.H. Ainsworth’s criminal romance Jack Sheppard in 1839, suggested that public decency had not been so threatened since ‘the time of Tom and Jerry’ ...

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The Man Who Wrote ‘The Vampyre’

John Polidori was a promising writer who died tragically young. His reputation has suffered at the pens of the Byron circle, of which he was briefly a member, and their biographers. He is best known for his story ‘The Vampyre’ (1819), which created the modern myth of the aristocratic undead that endures to this day.

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Writing the Underworld: Jack Sheppard and the Newgate Controversy

Jack Sheppard began its serial run in Bentley’s Miscellany in January 1839. Dickens’s serial Oliver Twist was at this point coming to a conclusion in the same magazine, and for four months both serials appeared concurrently, becoming implicitly connected in the minds of their original and massive audience.

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Tales of Terror

John Galt’s ‘The Buried Alive’ sums up the common feature of these tales: as the narrator succumbs to narcolepsy and is presumed dead, ‘The world was then darkened, but I still could hear, and feel, and suffer.' The sincerest form of flattery followed...

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Beaks, buzgloaks, and knucks in quod: The Language of the Nineteenth Century Underworld

It was the London-Irish Regency sporting journalist Pierce Egan who first made the flash the fashion – the linguistically deviant slang anti-language of the Daffy Clubs, the Fancy, the street-folk, and the criminal underworld, which he had acquired ringside and used to great effect in his coverage of illegal bare-knuckle boxing matches ...

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Melmoth the Wanderer

In 1816, John Melmoth, a Dublin student, visits his miserly uncle on his deathbed. He finds a portrait dated 1646 hidden in his uncle’s closet depicting a mysterious ancestor with eyes ‘such as one feels they wish they had never seen.’ At his uncle’s funeral, a servant tells John an old family story…

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