The Victorian Underworld by Donald Thomas

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Synopsis

William Makepeace Thackeray once wrote that the wonders of the Victorian underworld "have been lying by your door and mine ever since we had a door of our own." Donald Thomas here pushes open that door to reveal a world at once both strange and strangely familiar, inviting casual voyeur and serious historian alike to cross its threshold.

Applying his talent for colorful biography to chronicle an entire age, Thomas shows us an underworld through the eyes of its inhabitants. Defined by night houses and cigar divans, populated by street people like the running-patterer with his news of murder, and entertainers like the Fire King, the underworld was an insular yet diffuse community, united by its deep hatred of the police. In its gin shops and taverns, thrived thieves and beggars, cheats, forgers, and pickpockets, preying on rich and poor alike.

Career criminals often showed a craftsmanship that would put their descendants to shame. It took true professionals to remove the modern equivalent of twenty million dollars from the Bank of England. In one case, conspirators even recruited officers from Scotland Yard.

Those who failed in such enterprises found themselves in the convict hulks, where the annual mortality rate might reach 40 percent, or in the new prisons, their faces masked and identified only by numbers. Rich in anecdote and vividly recounted, The Victorian Underworld brings the past alive like few recent works of history.

 

About Donald Thomas

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Donald Thomas is the author of "The Raising of Lizzie Meek" and "Victorian Underworld" (NYU Press, 1998), which was short-listed for the Golden Dagger Award. He is also the author of seven biographies, including "Cardigan of Balaclava" and "Cochrane: Britannia's Sea-Wolf". He holds a personal chair at Cardiff University in Wales. Henry Mayhew (18121887) was a journalist, social investigator, novelist, and author his work distinguished by vivid reportage, unsentimental sympathy, humor, and an eye for detail. Victor Neuburg is a former senior lecturer at the School of Librarianship, University of North London. His publications include "Popular Literature" and "A Guide to the Western Front,
 
Published March 12, 1998 by John Murray Publishers Ltd. 352 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Political & Social Sciences, Travel. Non-fiction

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Through these and other sources, Thomas covers the environs of working-class criminals (sometimes known as “the poor who fought back”), from the slums of Whitechapel and the tenements of “The Devil’s Acre” in Westminster, colloquially called “rookeries” and “rabbit-warrens.” These firsthand accou...

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Publishers Weekly

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""A vivid tableau of debauchery and sadism"" is the way Thomas describes the newspaper and magazine coverage of Victorian prostitution, but he may as well be describing his own book.

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Reviews in History

In the last 25 years or so the social history of crime, and more recently of juvenile delinquency, has taken enormous strides both in Britain and elsewhere.

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