MA Thesis

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Abstract.

In 1987 L.B. Faller published a study of the forms and functions of late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century criminal biography. However, the traditions of the genre of criminal biography continued throughout the eighteenth and into the nineteenth centuries. Ephemeral publications such as broadsides purporting to be the ‘Last Dying Speeches’ of criminals were sold at public executions outside Newgate gaol. Broadsides were purchased by members of all classes at these public events, and their main function was in the provision of news and entertainment. Before the dawn of the Victorian era, novelists such as William Harrison Ainsworth, Edward Bulwer Lytton, and Charles Dickens authored a series of novels which came to be known as the Newgate novel. The main function of these novels was entertainment, whilst they also offered a nostalgic representation of the eighteenth century in addition to a critique of contemporary society. Penny bloods were inexpensive mass-market fiction aimed towards the working classes. They brought an increasingly literate working class reading matter analogous to the fiction which their middle-class counterparts were enjoying. However, they also gave voice to working-class fears surrounding life in an increasingly urbanised society, whilst providing readers with a ‘carnivalesque’ opportunity to ‘thumb their noses’ at authority. Inspired by Faller’s work, this thesis is a discussion of the forms and functions of early nineteenth-century crime literature.

MA Dissertation

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