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Monthly Archives: August 2014

Redefining my definition of Penny Bloods

In my previous blogpost I discussed some of the existing definitions of penny bloods and proposed what I considered to be the first penny blood. However, as I was very much aware that not everyone might agree with me on the topic, or that part of my reasoning might have been wrong, I requested members of a wonderful listserv Bloods, Penny Dreadfuls and Dime novels to give me some feedback. I was fortunate enough to receive two rather extensive replies in which the authors put forward quite a different point of view. Based on their feedback I decided to post a revision of my blogpost. Part of being in academics is after all to pose an argument, to admit when one is wrong and to revise and adjust it afterwards. Before I set out to do so, however, I wish to extend a particular thank you to Justin, who really has been a wonderful help!

Whereas in my previous blogpost I argued for an exclusion of Newgate calendar and novels from the genre of penny bloods, my correspondents advised me against doing this. They pointed out that a rather substantial part of the penny bloods and later penny dreadfuls consist of the adventures of pirates, buccaneers and high-way men. Furthermore, this discussion called to mind the overlap which I had encountered in some penny bloods with this type of novel. In, for example, Miranda: Heiress of the Grange by Rhymer (perhaps my favourite penny blood), a Highway man is partially responsible for saving the day.

Rather than excluding this type of literature then, I propose to emphasize the existence of two sub-genres within the genre of penny bloods, as nearly all novels fall roughly within the category of the Newgate calendar and novel or the domestic romance. For those who have not read my previous blogpost I will include the short passage which I dedicated to an explanation of what Newgate literature is and how it came into being: The Newgate Calendar started out as a collection of broadsheets which were sold during executions at Newgate prison in 1773, but later became a collection of short stories based on biographies of notorious criminals. The immense popularity of these stories gave rise to the Newgate novel, the greatest difference being that each of these novels focused on the adventures of one particular 18th century highwayman, footpad, brigand, pickpocket, thief, bandit or robber and his allies (Beller 121). The domestic romance is a term which is much harder to define, because as Louis James explains in Fiction of the Workingman: “it does not mean a tale of home life, as we would expect today. The term denotes not so much a particular subject, as an approach to the subject. G. D. Pitt defined a domestic romance when he declared ‘the events are brought home to the evidence of our senses, as constant with scenes of real life’” (97). What is meant here is that although these stories are by no means plausible, they aim to create the illusion of presenting ‘life as it is’. They enabled people to read about characters and situations with which they could identify:

“They feel at home in it, it makes little demand on the imagination, and they are flattered to imagine themselves in the picture. Above all, it presents life subtly romanticised – situations are more dramatic, people are less complicated, the horizon is always bright” (James 113).

At the same time, these novels always revolve around a romantic plot in which for example a young woman is betrayed by her lover (as in Ada the Betrayed), in which her lover becomes the victim of a vicious plot to keep the two beloved apart (as in Miranda; Or, the Heiress of the Grange), or in which a young woman is trying to uncover whether or not her lover is still alive and what happened to him (The String of Pearls).

This then brings me to the matter of the first. It is highly possible that either Lives of the Most Notorious Highwaymen, Footpads, brigands, pickpockets, thieves, banditti, and robbers of every description or History of the Pirates of All Nations were the first penny bloods, as these were the first publications with a “lurid and sensational” subject matter to have been published at the price of one penny by Edward Lloyd. Micheal Holmes informed me that he argued in article he wrote for the Book & Magazine Collector that History of the Pirates of All Nations should be awarded the title of first, as the first issue was published in March 1836 and Lives of the Most Notorious Highwayman etc. was not published until April.

With a certain amount of caution, I nevertheless pose that Ela, the Outcast [1839] makes a very strong claim to be the first of the domestic romances to be published at the price of one penny. Although this penny blood has often been dated to around 1845, John Adcock has published an advertisement for this periodical on his blog Yesterday’s Papers, which dates it back to October 1839. This would make Ela the earliest domestic romance penny blood that we currently know of.

With respect to the first of the “penny dreadfuls” I have been warned to err on the side of caution, as the dividing line between the two genres is not quite clear even to experts. Perhaps they are even two sides to the same coin. I will therefore revert back to the date which Robert J. Kirkpatrick has given for the possible end of publication of penny bloods in his book From the Penny Dreadful to the ha’penny dreadfuller, namely 1870.

My revised definition of penny bloods, which is now similar to that of Kirkpatrick, is as follows:

Penny bloods are a genre of novels published in serial numbers at the price of one penny between 1836-1870, characterized by their sensational and violent subject matter. These novels can roughly be subdivided according to their topic, into the sub-genre of the Newgate calendar and novel or the domestic romance.


Works cited

Adcock, John. “Ela, the Outcast”. Yesterday’s Papers. Yesterday’s papers, 18 Jun. 2010. Web. 26 Aug. 2014.

Beller, Anne-Marie. “Newgate Novel”. Mary Elizabeth Braddon: A Companion to the Mystery Fiction. Jefferson:McFarland, 2012. Digital.

James, Louis. Fiction for the Working Man: A study of the literature produced for the working classes in Early Victorian England 1830-1850. Oxford: OUP, 1963.

Kirkpatrick, Robert J. From the Penny Dreadful to the ha’penny dreadfuller. London: The British Library, 2013.

Prest, Thomas Peckett. Ela the Outcast; or, the Gipsy of Rosemary Dell. London: E. Lloyd, 1839. Digitial.

Rhymer, James Malcolm. “Ada, the Betrayed; or, The Murder at the Old Smithy”. Lloyd’s penny weekly miscellany of romance and general interest. Vol 1. London: Edward Lloyd, 1843. Print.

—. “Miranda; Or, the Heiress of the Grange. Lloyd’s penny weekly miscellany of romance and general interest. Vol 1. London: Edward Lloyd, 1843. Print.

—. “The String of Pearls. A Romance”. ed. Lee Jackson, nov. 2001. Web. 15 Aug. 2014.

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