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

3.43  ·  Rating details ·  2,938 ratings  ·  478 reviews
In this fascinating exploration of murder in nineteenth century England, Judith Flanders examines some of the most gripping cases that captivated the Victorians and gave rise to the first detective fiction

Murder in the nineteenth century was rare. But murder as sensation and entertainment became ubiquitous, with cold-blooded killings transformed into novels, broadsides, ba
Hardcover, 556 pages
Published July 23rd 2013 by Thomas Dunne Books (first published January 6th 2011)
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Average rating 3.43  · 
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 ·  2,938 ratings  ·  478 reviews

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Bill Kerwin
Jul 27, 2013 rated it really liked it

Judith Flanders, who demonstrates an extensive knowledge of 19th century English literature and popular culture, shows us 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 c
May 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: true-crime
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
Oct 06, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
Auntie Terror
3.3 Stars
While the narrator did a very good job in my opinion, this book just wasn't what I had expected it to be.
It gives, I'd say, a good overview of "Britain's most (in)famous murder cases of the Victorian era" and, to some extent, points out the worrying weakness of the justice system in respect to social ranks and also points out where cases and scientific reality have influenced fiction. But it does the latter to much less of an extent than I'd hoped for.

This isn't a bad audiobook. But it'
May 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Trigger warnings: murder. Obviously. Also rape, gore and infanticide. Capital punishment. Dismemberment. It's like an episode of Criminal Minds up in here, but with Charles Dickens. IDEK what I'm saying any more.

I stumbled across this not-so-little gem in one of the many bookshops I visited in London a few months back. And given that crime novels and the Victorian era are my jam, I bought it instantly because obvs. And then I put off reading it for months.

Anywho. I've read it now. And it was l
K.J. Charles
How much you enjoy this will depend entirely on your taste for Victorian murders and related social issues, Victorian pulp, and lit crit. These are some of my favourite things so I loved it. In particular the ineptitude and corruption of the entire judicial system is very well brought out, also the gross social misogyny and classism. Plus it directed me to Jerome K Jerome's hilarious Stage-Land. A nerd wallow. ...more
Apr 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very engaging non-fiction by Ms Flanders, who plunges deep into the Victorian times and provides us with details of a number of crimes committed in the 19th century, but not only. What I appreciate most about this book is that the author analyzes how the Victorians perceived crime and what their attitudes were towards the criminals. Also, Ms Flanders presents us with lots of information on how the crimes were reported in newspapers, which was especially attractive to me. A really interesting r ...more
Aug 07, 2013 rated it did not like it
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.
Katie Long
DNF 25%...what a disappointment. So far this has amounted to a laundry list of Victorian era murders and the fiction inspired by them.
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
Sep 17, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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."
Well, sigh, I sure took my time getting this read. I read the first few chapters and then went on an eight-day trip in which I had no time to read. In the unlikely event that anyone was actually paying enough attention to notice, I wouldn’t blame them for assuming that I had died. Anyway, I finally got it done.

This is a fascinatingly detailed account of famous crimes, mostly murders, that occurred in the eighteenth and nineteenth century and how they affected the public imagination. It talks abo
Sep 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book took some reading but I am glad that I did. It was given me a lot to think about and given me some interesting new perspectives.

So in no particular order (just what comes to mind) is that the idea of the the popular press conducting its own trials (by both popular opinion and that of the editors and owners of the paper) often before but more often during the court case is far from new. In fact the level of scandalous and incredulous behaviour these papers and publications went to is as
Sally Kilpatrick
Lots of great information here, but it was slow going at times. I think I would preferred more about the crimes and less about each and every book and stage adaptation.
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
Jun 09, 2017 rated it liked it
Wow, what a book. Beginning with the brutal murder of the Marr family in 1811, this book takes us though crimes real and fictional, through the sentimentalization of Murder in the nineteenth century. Conviction by circumstantial evidence, a morbid fascination for hangings by the public, the rise of murder as a big subject in fiction, both on the stage and in novels. Many of these novels were based on real crimes or alluded to them. I had no idea that Oliver Twist's last name was an underworld sl ...more
Feb 11, 2021 rated it liked it
Historically detailed in 100's of references, copy, drawings from the Victorian era in England. Piece by piece police components forged into recognizable units while murder cases became highlighted in skits, songs, broadsheets and other various tavern entertainments. Even death by execution could become a type of celebrity fodder.

Murder was more scarce than in the 100 years after. Most of these are case to case histories in different situational examples of finding clear evidence as well.

Nov 01, 2020 added it
Shelves: nonfiction
I'm not going to rate this, simply because I have no idea how to rate it lmao.

So this was really informative and interesting, and I learned a lot about murder in the Victorian ages. It was actually a really neat read, and I'm glad I read it. I recommend it for anyone who's curious about crime and penny dreadfuls and such in Victorian times.
Katherine Addison
Ignore the pretentious title (and the doubly pretentious sub-title): nowhere in her argument does Flanders claim that the Victorians "invented" murder, nor that they "created modern crime." The Invention of Murder is half an overview of the famous murders of the nineteenth century in England, from the Ratcliffe Highway murders (The Maul And The Pear Tree) to Jack the Ripper (The Complete History of Jack the Ripper). (Although, oddly, Charles Bravo (Death at the Priory: Love, Sex, and Murder in V ...more
May 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book detailing various murders during the Victorian period and how they were reflected in the media of the day. It was interesting to read about the evolution of public attitudes towards violent crime and the concurrent changes in media, from the penny dreadfuls of the early 1800s through the emergence of true detective fiction. I would be interested to read an analogous work following the trends through the 20th century. One warning I will issue is that if you are planning ...more
Very detailed book about a fascinating period in England. I wish to read it again because it was so fascinating and the level of research and information presented takes diligence to absorb thoroughly.
Feb 27, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 like t
Mar 28, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Kevin McAllister
Jul 30, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Lori Rader-Day
Oct 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A big-un. Took a lot of pre-bedtime reading sessions to get this one done. Lots of great info, though.
Tim Pendry

This is a solid work of history that looks at how crimes were interpreted in popular culture and then used in literature to create our modern fascination with violence and detection in the era between the Ratcliffe Highway Murders (1811) and the Jack the Ripper phenomenon at century's end.

Flanders adopts a somewhat pedestrian approach in which the crime is summarised, the popular response to the crime outlined and reference made to its influence on literature, with side comments on contemporary
Oct 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Colin Garrow
Jul 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
With its subtitle – ‘How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime’, this book traces the British public’s interest in murder as a sort of national entertainment. Though the book’s title clearly suggests we’re talking about the Victorian period (1837-1901), Ms Flanders begins her romp through the gory annals of homicide in 1811, with the Ratcliffe Highway killings, where two families were slaughtered (supposedly) by one John Williams.

Illustrating her research with
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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

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