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The Victorian “Penny Dreadful”

Special Collections has recently added a number of penny dreadfuls to its Victorian Collection.  The term “penny dreadful” refers to a genre of popular fiction which had its heyday in mid- to late-Victorian Britain.  Penny dreadfuls were cheaply-produced, often second-rate novels issued in parts, which were consumed by working-class readers.  Each part usually cost a penny.  The earliest of these novels tended to be gory “shockers,” including gothic fiction and tales of true crime.  Later in the Victorian period, publishers issued  suspense novels, including adventure stories aimed at teenage boys, although the penny dreadful genre also encompassed romance and historical novels.  Penny dreadfuls are quite scarce today, because they were printed on cheap paper and often were handled by multiple readers (people would pool money together to purchase the penny parts).

Special Collections contains examples of penny dreadfuls in loose parts as well as bound sets.  They can be found in the library catalog by searching for “penny dreadfuls,” “suspense fiction,” or “street literature” using the “genre/form” search button.

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