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The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime

3.38 of 5 stars 3.38  ·  rating details  ·  1,121 ratings  ·  208 reviews
This text is about 19th-century Britain's fascination with good quality murder. Murder during this period was ubiquitous - not necessarily in quantity but in quality. This was the era of penny-bloods, early crime fiction and melodramas for the masses. It was a time when murder and entertainment were firmly entwined.
Hardcover, 556 pages
Published November 18th 2011 by HarperCollins Publishers (first published January 1st 2011)
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Best Books of the Decade: 2010's
302nd out of 2,394 books — 2,652 voters
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Victorian Britain: Non-Fiction
39th out of 88 books — 26 voters

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Community Reviews

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I’m a true crime buff, though I hesitate to admit this. At best it makes me creepy, the kind of person you warily back away from at parties, lest you get stuck in a corner. At worst it makes me a cop in the media-driven exploitation machine, which turns the tragic into spectacle, and whips private pain into a public frenzy.

Of course, I’m not the only one. The media does not act in a vacuum. There wouldn’t be a constant stream of sensationalized crime stories if there wasn’t a large and avid aud
Victoria (Eve's Alexandria)
This was a impulsive Audible download when it first came out, and I've been doggedly listening to it in the mornings getting ready for work. Doggedly gives you a clue as it how I feel about it. There were times when I was incredibly close to defeat. Not because the subject isn't interesting but because the telling was very formulaic.

First there is the outline plot of a seminal murder, followed by a discussion of how it impacted in popular media and culture. Quite often the latter becomes a mono
Bill  Kerwin

Judith Flanders has an extensive knowledge of 19th century English literature and popular culture, and she demonstrates how actual 19th Century murders and their transmuted and distorted recreations in newspaper coverage, broadside ballads, working class drama and "penny-dreadful" fiction, helped both to reflect and to forge what today we think of as the necessary accoutrements of crime: the modern police force, the private detective, the forensic investigation. Further, she shows how these crim
This book needs to go back to the editor. The chapters were too long and the thesis was lost or never quite articulated. I felt like I was reading a masters thesis and not a book for popular audience. The author used the same type of examples in many chapters. By the third or forth chapter, I could expect excepts from newspapers that where widely in accurate, example of plays produced on the cases examine, and a look at the penny novels, broadsides, and ballads produced for the masses. The quest ...more
Although the title suggests otherwise, the Victorians did not invent murder. They were merely the first to make it profitable.

As the eighteenth century morphed into the nineteenth, public discussion of homicide in Great Britain shifted from the pulpits to the press, inspiring stage dramas and best-selling ‘penny dreadfuls’. No one was immune to the allure: the nobility attended murder trials as faithfully as the working classes, executions were witnessed by stadium-sized crowds, and literary gia
Very dry. I tried to read the first 30 pages and got bored. I tried to skim the next 50 pages and got even more bored. I was excited to read this book but it was big let-down. Other books that are similar (but better) are The Beautiful Cigar Girl by Daniel Stashower, and The Suspicions of Mr. Which by Kate Summerscale.
Emma Sea
The subtitle should be "how Victorians created modern sensationalist media," rather than crime.

Enjoyable, but to some extent a lot of the book was the same theme over and over again: acusations of crimes used to reinforce class and gender divisions. I felt sad most of the time, reading about women and men long executed, who had clearly commited no crime, but had the weight of the Victorian legal system against them.

This made it a slightly ponderous read. I think about half the length could have
Disappointing. This book demonstrates that a lack of organization, discpline and analysis can wreck a seemingly intersting topic. The chapter designations were completely irrelevant, as every chapter followed the same pattern: description of some murders and their trial transcripts and then a summary of how the murder played out in pop culture.

Long before Law and Order, entertainment was "ripped from the headlines."
MRS FLANDERS’ new book cat’logues the notorious rogues and vill’ans of the great VICTORIAN AGE. Recoil at such fiendish devil’ry as that committed by MESSRS BURKE & HARE, WAINEWRIGHT and the remorseless poisoner PALMER. Witness again the lamentable and notorious crimes of the sin-ful women, MADELINE SMITH and ELIZA FENNING. Embark on a colour-ful and sensational tour of BRUTALITY and EVIL, culminating in the most cruel and vicious MURDERER of the AGE, the unspeakable JACK THE RIPPER!

(I do li
This is one of those books that you read that gives you lists of more books to read.
Flanders’ book is an analysis of how Victorian Society viewed murdered, as mostly seen in the literature (both high and low) of the time as well as in the media. She traces not only the rimes but the impact.
It’s a pretty compelling read not only for the information it contains about the books of the time. Among other things she traces the development of infanticide as a crime, linking the change in law to the c
Kevin McAllister
You'd think a book titled The invention of Murder couldn't be boring.Sadly, that wasn't the case with this book. The author discussed over 50 murders that took place during 19th century Great Britain. And while the descriptions of the murders themselves were interesting, it was the repetitive way the author then went on to describe how these murders were covered by newspapers, and then turned into works of fiction or plays. We were given, again and again. brief summaries of numerous books and pl ...more
This book is incredibly well-researched, which is both a positive and a negative. On one side, the amount of information made for lots of gory details, which certainly satisfied my curiosity. But on the other, the book was bogged down in detail. I don't need to know the plot of every single stage adaptation based on a murder, nor do I need to know what critics said about these adaptations.

There were a few times when the author teased us with something interesting, only to delve into another topi
Lauren Albert
The main problem with this book is its repetitiveness. Over and over again you get:

1. The murder. The main details as known
2. The hunt for the murderer(s) with all of the failures of those searching
3. The press/writers--the money made, the circulations increased, the story altered as desired.
4. The trial of the accused--miscarriages of justice (bias, failure to present counter evidence, defendant lacking defense attorney, etc.)
5. The result of trial
6. The public opinion regarding the trial and t
From BBC Radio 4 - Book of the Week:
"We are a trading community - a commercial people. Murder is, doubtless, a very shocking offence; nevertheless, as what is done is not to be undone, let us make our money out of it." Punch, 1842

Over the course of the nineteenth century, murder - in reality a rarity - became ubiquitous: transformed into novels, into broadsides and ballads, into theatre and melodrama. Seeing therein the foundation of modern notions of crime, "The Invention of Murder" explores th
I am only about 100 pages into this one, but it is wonderful. I've read one of her other books before, but I think I'll have to read them all. Packed with facts, very interesting and extremely funny. I read it at lunch and have a hard time explaining to my colleagues why I'm giggling. "Oh, I just find this book very funny. It's about... er... murder..?"
Murder is a most foul practice, and it feels like these days you can't turn on the TV or log into (if you're me that is) without seeing something about murder. Be it a news report or something to entertain us, murder seems to be on our collective brains. Has it always been this way? Well, no, not always. But it has been this way since the Victorian Era. OH THE VICTORIAN ERA, a time that I love to read and learn about but a time I am overly thankful I did not live during. We can credit ( ...more
Clare Fitzgerald
Not too long ago, I went into Porter Square Books with the intention of not necessarily buying any books (I was there for an Event and I was very, very broke), but then I saw a book that called to me, and seemed to have been written for the express purpose of tempting me into buying it no matter how much I couldn’t afford to. It was even in hardcover! A beautiful, creepy black hardcover.
The book was The Invention of Murder How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Cri
So, clearly this is a subject based book. Like Roach it explores some of the more darker, unique, and weird (not as much as Roach though) parts of society/history/life... etc. Unlike roach though this one takes a more serious tone. There is not many laughs (unless you are as morbid as me), but that makes sense, since i felt this one was more true to background/history/sociology.

There is everything for the wickedly morbid person here, and even the slightly disturbed history buff. Especially welc
I have to give this 2 stars because the topic is interesting and I love the Victorian Era, but I keep finding myself zoning out when I'm reading this and I have to keep pulling my attention back or I simply fall asleep.

Part of my problem, I know, is that I just don't do well with nonfiction like this. Now if I had it as an audio book I would most likely do much better. I would love to listen to this, but alas our library doesn't have it on audio. So for now I'm content that I gave it a whirl.
This book sets out to show explore the Victorian attitude to murder and how it helped to create and shape the fledgling police and detective forces. It describes how often the Victorians viewed the murder as simultaneously something dreadful and entertaining at the same time - exemplified by the massive crowds that would turn out to witness a hanging, the broadsides and songs on the subjects that were so popular, the true-life crime turned into plays and novels, the massive interest in the press ...more
This is that rare bird, a DNF for a book that isn't even bad. I actually thought it was dryly hilarious in places (as when it recounts the absurd plot contrivances tacked on to "ripped from the headlines" stories when adapting them for the stage). Other moments are tragic, telling the stories of victims or falsely accused. It's a pretty good book about how both crime investigation and stories about crime and investigation changed during the Victorian era. I'm stopping reading it simply because i ...more
Brenda Clough
A good overview of not the fictional field, but the events that generated the fiction.
Flanders' book, The Invention of Murder, takes an interesting approach to talking about crime in the Victorian era. While there is plenty of social commentary mixed in, her primary angle is to look at the intersection of reality and fiction. How did attitudes toward murder change over this fairly long period of history? How did the journalistic and fictional treatment of crime reflect (and shape) contemporary attitudes toward said crime? If you're an amateur historian, this is all pretty excitin ...more
Although the title seems to suggest that the Victorians CREATED death, the subtitle is closer to the truth. Flanders does not limit her coverage to the Victorians but takes us back to cases that occurred in the late 18th century as well. To me, she actually cover the "commercialization" of murder rather than its "invention."

Murder became a saleable commodity during the 19th century. Broadsheets had always been printed to announce important events but their use greatly increased during this centu
Super-duper interesting, non-fiction book.

Thumbs up
This was a right eye opener on how the Victorians from all classes viewed and dealt with murders. A fun day out for all the family doesn’t even cover it.
My favourite bits of the book were when famous authors of the time who commented on the executions or trials were referenced. These included the author Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, George Elliot and more – men and women who were the authors of the classics. What was more fascinating was ho
Katherine Rowland
I expected more from this book, perhaps more than the author intended. For the first third of the book, I was riveted. Flanders' exposition of the growth of crime, the resulting increase in attempts to control it, and the explosion of sensational media was masterful and absorbing. By the middle of the book, I was struggling to find her thesis, though, and the last third felt repetitious: I found myself skimming, or distracted by overused phrases. I closed the covers feeling that I had learned a ...more
This book wasn't too bad, considering it deals with the rise of certain types of crime in England (and other parts of the U.K., such as Scotland, with the "Burke and Hare" case). Centering on (mostly) poisonings, it gives the reader a glimpse of how things were dealt with in regards to the case mentioned, such as the poisoner Mary Ann Cotton, who killed her children, three husbands, her mother and step-children in pursuit of a better life (after a payout from a 'burial fund', or a stipend for th ...more
Today's nonfiction post is about The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Dead and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders. It is 556 pages long including notes and is published by Thomas Dunne Books. The cover is black with a skull and the title in white. The intended reader is someone who is interested in history, crime, and well written books. There is some mild language, talk of sex, and detailed violence. Because of the tone of the book adults would get the most ...more
The author did a great deal of research. You will be reminded of this every second paragraph, where instead of advancing an argument, Flanders will barrage the reader with yet another questionably relevant quotation.

There may well be a decent text in here, but it is buried under the author's utter inability to focus upon and progressively develop a cogent thesis.
D.E. Meredith
Excellent book on why Victorians became so obsessed with murder, and also looks at the birth of the crime novel. Loved it. Wonderful detail, really catches the period, incredibly well researched. Fascinating subject matter which Judith Flanders handles with wit, erudition and a lot of panache. Highly recommended for those interested in the Victorian period.
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Mysteries & Crime...: The Invention of Murder 3 29 Aug 28, 2013 01:43PM  
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Judith Flanders was born in London, England, in 1959. She moved to Montreal, Canada, when she was two, and spent her childhood there, apart from a year in Israel in 1972, where she signally failed to master Hebrew.

After university, Judith returned to London and began working as an editor for various publishing houses. After this 17-year misstep, she began to write and in 2001 her first book, A Cir
More about Judith Flanders...
Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England A Murder of Magpies The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens' London A Circle of Sisters: Alice Kipling, Georgiana Burne-Jones, Agnes Poynter and Louisa Baldwin Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain

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“It reinforces a sense of safety, even of pleasure, to know that murder is possible, just not here. At the start of the nineteenth century, it was easy to think of murder that way.” 0 likes
“Well some are born to be hanged, and some are not; and many of those who are not hanged are much worse than those who are.” 0 likes
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