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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The Dark Places of the Earth

'East of Suez, some hold, the direct control of Providence ceases; man is there handed over to the power of the Gods and devils of Asia, and the Church of England providence only exercising an occasional and modified supervision in the case of Englishmen. This theory accounts for some of the more unnecessary horrors of life in India; it may be stretched to explain my story.' 

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Looking into Hell: Kipling and the Great War

During a visit in the winter of 1918, Rider Haggard – who believed in reincarnation – asked Rudyard Kipling if he thought the earth was one of the hells. His old friend replied that he did not think this, he was certain of it. And hell it had been. The Great War was barely a month ended and for grieving families the Armistice brought no relief. Kipling’s only son, John, was killed during the Battle of Loos. He was eighteen years old.

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The Newgate Controversy (Part One)

When considering an author as culturally monolithic as Charles Dickens, it’s easy to forget that he wasn’t born the national author, anymore than Shakespeare was. As a young journalist in the early-1830s, although already possessed of considerable talent and ambition, he was just another freelance writer in the Darwinian world of London publishing.

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The Newgate Controversy (Part Two)

In the conclusion of his article, Stephen Carver recounts how Dickens overcame his critics, notably Thackeray, to achieve lasting fame as a champion of the poor and vulnerable.

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Drugs and Addiction in Romantic Literature

Both for good and for ill, the drug was being acknowledged, at least indirectly, as a significant part of the imaginative process so crucial to Romantic theory and practice.

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De Quincey and The Gothic

De Quincey rarely wrote gothic fiction, but he radiated gothic sensibility. To the Victorians, the identification of De Quincey with the mad, morbid and macabre was so absolute that he is cited, along with Poe, in the The Times’ original coverage of the Jack the Ripper murders.

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The Life and Adventures of the Lancashire Novelist

The years have not been kind to the memory of the Manchester-born Victorian author William Harrison Ainsworth, a prolific English novelist once held in such high regard that many of his contemporaries viewed him as a natural successor to Sir Walter Scott. Ainsworth’s romances were hugely popular in the 1830s and 40s...

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A Gothic Chronology

In Jane Austen’s satire of the fashion for gothic romance, Northanger Abbey, Isabella Thorpe enthusiastically recommends seven ‘horrid novels’ to Catherine Morland. For many years these were believed by literary scholars to have been inventions of the author. There were actually all real books – see if you can find them in this list…

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The Man who wasn’t Dickens

‘If “Mr G.W. Reynolds” be the Mr. Reynolds who is the author of the Mysteries of London, and who took the chair for a mob in Trafalgar Square before they set forth on a window-breaking expedition,’ wrote Charles Dickens in 1849, ‘I hold his to be a name with which no lady’s, and no gentleman’s, should be associated.'

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