Victorian Villains | June 1, 2013

Library Journal Reviews starred review Flanders, Judith. The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Jul. 2013. 576p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781250024879. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250024886. CRIME/HIST

Brilliantly researched and rendered, this is an indispensable read for anyone—scholars and the general public alike—who harbors an interest in the evolution of the notion and representation of murder. UK social historian Flanders (The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London) has written a remarkable cultural history that chronicles the way murder was regarded and written about during the Victorian era. Having sifted through innumerable broadsides, newspapers, journals, and fictional pieces of the time, Flanders posits that our modern understanding of—and our fascination with—murder has been shaped by Victorian cultural mores and representations in print media, drama, and literature. The chapter titles provide an outline of the historical development of our relationship with murder: “Imagining Murder,” ”Trial by Newspaper, “Entertaining Murder,” “Policing Murder,” “Panic,” “Middle-Class Poisoners,” Science, Technology and the Law, “Violence,” and “Modernity.” Flanders presents a fascinating narrative in well-crafted and at times suitably ironic prose. VERDICT Perfect for readers who enjoyed Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective. An absorbing contribution to the history of crime.—Lynne Maxwell, Villanova Univ. Sch. of Law Lib., PA

Wise, Sarah. Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty, and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England. Counterpoint. Jul. 2013. 480p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781619021716. $28. HIST

UK author Wise (The Blackest Streets) tells the stories of particular men and women in Victorian England as they struggled against incarceration as lunatics, even though some were of sound mind. The 1828 Madhouse Act gave patients recourse to fight involuntary incarceration by “mad-doctors” who operated private “mad-houses.” Wise reveals how lunacy allegations were driven primarily by family members in order to control money or owing to social, political, or personal disputes. She writes about eccentric and successful tea merchant Edward Davies, lunatic patient (later policy reformer) John Perceval, religious fanatic Louisa Jane Nottidge, and Lady Bulwer-Lytton, whose abduction and captivity ignited reaction from the political to the literary. Although her endnotes are light on specific sourcing, Wise draws her narratives from the contemporary periodical press, the minute books of a select committee of the Commissioners in Lunacy, the slim extant holdings from asylums, and personal stories found in other publications. VERDICT Wise’s accessible narrative makes this disturbing area of history a less demanding read than perhaps the subject itself requires. Recommended for generalists as well as those studying Victorian social history or the history of British mental health laws, although the lack of a clear thesis or conclusion may disappoint them.—Annalisa Pesek, Library Journal