Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Victorian Underworld” as Want to Read:
The Victorian Underworld
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Victorian Underworld

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  177 ratings  ·  23 reviews
Donald Thomas shows us, through the eyes of its inhabitants, the teeming underbelly of a world more often associated with gentility and high culture. Defined by night houses and cigar divans, populated by street people like the running-patterer with his news of murder, and entertainers like the Fire King, the underworld was an insular yet diffuse community, united by its d ...more
Hardcover, 346 pages
Published September 1st 1998 by New York University Press (first published March 12th 1998)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Victorian Underworld, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Victorian Underworld

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.82  · 
Rating details
 ·  177 ratings  ·  23 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Jan 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-nonfiction
Interesting history of various types of activities deemed criminal in Victorian-era London. The author delves into everything from murder and counterfitting to theft and prostitution. He also touches on the criminalization of homosexuality and crimes committed against and by immigrants. Sidebar: I only recently learned that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle worked to get some justice for George Edalji, an Anglo-Indian accountant who was falsely accused of animal mutiliation so it was interesting to read mo ...more
Tom Williams
Aug 29, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a brilliant introduction to crime in Victorian England. It does draw rather heavily on Mayhew's 'London Labour and the London Poor', but, given that I hardly ever open my copy of the original, anything that summarises key points is appreciated.

The book starts by laying out the geography of the London underworld, a world of 'rookeries' and 'penny gaffs'. We meet the costers and are introduced to their interminable war with the police moving through the lowest strata of society via the pro
Dec 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Completed the first non-fiction book for my research! While written very dryly and in absolutely minute font size, there were some surprisingly funny parts (especially the quotes from actual Victorians). Overall I found it interesting and helpful in terms of learning about both crime and the lower classes in the Victorian era.

Prologue: Darkest England
• This introduction doesn’t need to be as long as it is, most of the information is somewhere in the rest of the book anyway
• Covers things which w
Apr 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, history
This one takes a completely different approach from Kellow Chesney’s marvellous book of the same title. While Chesney focused very much on the grinding poverty and human suffering that formed the background to so much Victorian crime Thomas’s approach is more journalistic and much lighter. Which is not to say it isn’t a fascinating book. It is. In fact the two books complement each other rather well. While Chesney concentrates to a large extent on those at the bottom of the heap, Thomas’s book d ...more
This book combines two of my interest Victorian social history and true crime. Which also meant that I kept stopping to deep dive on certain cases. However, the book does give you a good overview over certain criminal aspect of the Victoria era up to the first world. The language was easily understandable and I don't you need to have much foreknowledge about the Victorian era to enjoy it, their are some famous names might be lost on the reader if have had no former experiences.

It did have my pet
Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: e-books
It wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but still it was a very informative read. Some parts were too long in my opinion, but the author gave a pretty vivid picture of what was London like during Victorian era. If all you know about that time period deals with politics and the life of aristocrats this book will be useful in making you look at the other side of the country/history/social ladder.
3,75 stars
Stephen Simpson
Jan 21, 2018 rated it it was ok
This was largely just a gloss of Mayhew's works (and a few other contemporary sources), and not one that much value beyond it. If you want to read a sort-of "Cliff Notes" version of the original sources (with some artwork and some expanded explanations, stories, and examples in a few places), maybe this will be of use. Still, I'd recommend going straight to the original sources this book cites so frequently.
Edd Alexander
Apr 27, 2018 rated it it was ok
For such an interesting subject, this book really does not add up to the sum of its parts. It really just seems to regurgitate material from other sources therfore I think it is better to consult the materials directly or go to more analytical works for interpretations.
Gordon Howard
Sep 11, 2018 rated it liked it
Good overview of London, and England's seamy 19th century underbelly. Broad-ranging, sometimes shallow, and a bit unfocused.
Brandi Thompson
Jul 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book starts out very slow, and it's dry overall.. but it has some very interesting insights on the Victorian era and humanity in general. Once I was really into it, I found it enjoyable.
Dec 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This might actually be the very best writer's resource for the Victorian period in England I have ever encountered. Western literature is stuffed full of depictions of the glamorous upper class, but the depictions of the middle and lower classes are reliably shallow, and often quite poorly thought out. This book, based on the social work of Mr. Mayhew, who went amoung the poor and the criminal classes and recorded, in their own words, their answers to his interview questions, reflects a much ric ...more
Aug 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is an excellent, well-researched and very approachable study of not just the "underworld" (that semi-mythical realm to which we consign the criminally inclined), but the entire underbelly of the Victorian world. There are plenty of crimes and capers recounted, told by both old lags and manhunters, but also scams, follies and numerous forays into the erotic life of London, from the lowest doxies on up to the toffs who played dress-up and the high ladies who enjoyed the whip-hand now and then ...more
Rena Sherwood
Sep 05, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I've only read about 10 Donald Thomas books (both fiction and non), but this is by far the best. It's a highly readable history of the Dark Side in Victorian England (especially London.) I not only highly recommend this for a good read in and of itself, but for anyone who enjoys Sherlock Holmes, or a good Victorian murder mystery (and even those who read bad Victorian murder mysteries.) I finally found out what a "rookery" was. The book is so good that one day I may actually have to break down a ...more
Jul 17, 2007 rated it it was ok
This was a fairly well-rounded look at the underworld, though it may have spent a little too much time examining prostitution. I was particularly interested to hear about the prison systems at the time (or lack therof). Some of the prison break stories were fairly entertaining.

Unfortunately, though, I thought this book read too much like a book report for the works of Henry Mayhew, a Victorian contemporary. The author could not contain his enthusiasm for the (presumably better) writing of Mr. Ma
Skut L
Jan 01, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
I enjoyed this,though the author did dwell on the sexual mores and related underworld element more than I felt necessary. I would have liked more information on the practices of those who were accused of murder and other such crimes but not much was given.

The latter part of the book was my favorite, as it dealt with the PIC of Victorian England. As the PIC of today, it existed to lock up the poor and destitute, but as one would expect it makes the prison system of first world nations in the 21s
Jan 06, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2015-books-read
This book was an interesting look at the darker side of Victorian England. But as one other reviewer noted it did feel a bit like a book report. The first three chapters were basically the auther recapping other books and heavily quoting from those books. It does make me want to search out and read the books used and I might never have heard of them if not for this book. Overall a good overview of an interesting and colorful subject.
Mar 26, 2016 rated it liked it
Too much emphasis on prostitution and other sexual crimes as well as summarizing other authors' works rather than actually interesting analysis of criminal practices and origins, but still a fairly thorough exploration of Victorian era crime and the criminal justice system.
May 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
An interesting read, well written and engaging look at the behind the scenes look at life in Victorian England away from the pomp and circumstances of the elite lives in which I was more familiar with.
Apr 15, 2009 marked it as to-read
recommended via BoingBoing
Feb 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: history
A fascinating look into the poor and criminal world of the Victorian age. A little dense at times, but very interesting.
Oct 21, 2014 rated it did not like it
Wasn't my cup of tea. Pun intended. :)
Oct 31, 2016 rated it liked it
This had the potential to be fascinating, but as so many others have mentioned it reads like a very dry book report. What could have been a historical page-turner becomes a slog.
Aug 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Intriguing read - enchanting for a non-fiction piece of work. Interesting focus and thematic choices.
Lori Berhon
rated it really liked it
Jun 07, 2013
Dain Keating
rated it it was ok
Sep 18, 2015
Kathy Hagen
rated it really liked it
Oct 06, 2018
rated it liked it
Jun 09, 2011
rated it it was amazing
Jan 02, 2017
rated it really liked it
Dec 17, 2008
rated it it was amazing
Dec 29, 2015
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The London Underworld in the Victorian Period: Authentic First-Person Accounts by Beggars, Thieves and Prostitutes
  • The Blackest Streets: The Life and Death of a Victorian Slum
  • London in the Nineteenth Century: A Human Awful Wonder of God
  • The Victorians
  • Victorian London: The Tale of a City 1840-1870
  • The Worst Street In London
  • London 1849: A Victorian Murder Story
  • The Secret History of Georgian London: How the Wages of Sin Shaped the Capital
  • Victorian Murderesses: A True History of Thirteen Respectable French and English Women Accused of Unspeakable Crimes
  • City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London
  • Inside the Victorian Home: A Portrait of Domestic Life in Victorian England
  • The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain Was Poisoned at Home, Work, and Play
  • Daily Life in Victorian London: An Extraordinary Anthology
  • Victorian People and Ideas
  • The Victorian Underworld
  • Bedlam: London and its Mad
  • Behind Closed Doors: At Home in Georgian England
  • The Writer's Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England
See similar books…
aka Francis Selwyn

Donald Serrell Thomas is an English author of (primarily) Victorian-era historical, crime and detective fiction, as well as books on factual crime and criminals, in particular several academic books on the history of crime in London. He has written a number of biographies, two volumes of poetry, and has also edited volumes of poetry by John Dryden and the Pre-Raphaelites.