Read The Victorian Underworld by Donald Thomas Online


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 dDonald 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 deep hatred of the police. In its gin shops and taverns, hard by the fashionable West End, thrived thieves and beggars, cheats, forgers, and pickpockets, preying on rich and poor alike. Bringing to light the ugly realities of daily life in the underworld, Thomas also tours the convict hulks and Dickensian prisons of the day to paint a grim picture of the losers in the mounting war on crime....

Title : The Victorian Underworld
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780814782385
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 346 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Victorian Underworld Reviews

  • Catherine
    2019-03-19 19:44

    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 more about that. This was one of a number of interesting tidbits in this history, which I would definitely recommend to writers and readers interested in the time period.

  • Tom Williams
    2019-03-26 23:40

    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 prostitutes and the tramps, to the conmen, the safe breakers and the murderers. Thomas's narrative veers here and there with side trips to take in music halls and race meetings, but though he often skims the surface of many of his subjects, he seems to have a remarkable understanding of his subject matter and the work is referenced with detailed footnotes.The mix of sociological analysis and anecdote make this excellent background reading for anybody who wants to familiarise themselves with the world of the Victorian underclass.

  • Dfordoom
    2019-03-01 17:57

    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 deals at considerable length with middle-class crime and with what could be called the aristocracy of crime – which is exceptionally intriguing because it’s an area that is often overlooked. Thomas also devotes a substantial amount of space to two of the most interesting aspects of the Victorian era - prostitution and pornography. His account of the lives of prostitutes in this era is particularly interesting, especially as it’s based largely on interviews with the prostitutes themselves (which were conducted by a number of Victorian investigators). Far from seeing themselves as victims many of these women felt they’d made a rather wise career choice, and felt themselves to be infinitely better off than women working 16 hours as sweated labour for the clothing industry for a fraction of the money that even the humblest whore could earn. They also had a much more favourable view of their clients than you might expect. The thriving underground (and not always so very underground) world of Victorian erotica is also treated in detail – the sexual lives of 19th century men and women were far more interesting than the conventional view of the era would have you believe. The chapters on the sporting world, especially the world of prize-fighting and the turf, and the Victorian obsession with gambling, are also great reading. Perhaps most remarkable of all, though, is the account of the extraordinary scandal involving the detective branch of Scotland Yard in the latter part of Victoria’s reign, a scandal that uncovered an almost unbelievable degree of corruption and ineptitude. If you have any interest in 19th century crime, or simply 19h century social history in general, I highly recommend both this book and the earlier book by Chesney.

  • BlurryBug
    2019-02-24 18:35

    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 peeve; the collection of the footnotes in the back instead of on the bottom of the page, but that is a personal preference problem and not a fault of the book.My only wish is that we got a few more famous cases though I did enjoy that it did focus on other murder cases than "Jack The Ripper" as that is one case often mention it did not get a lot of attention in this book.

  • Kristina
    2019-03-04 20:37

    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
    2019-02-24 18:50

    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.

  • Brandi Thompson
    2019-03-11 20:40

    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.

  • Kingsgrave
    2019-03-25 19:46

    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 richer, and more nuanced reality of the society upon which the 'literary Victorian' society was balanced.This book illustrates the underclasses' strata of rankings, describes how they perceived themselves in the mews and rookeries of pre-blitz London. It has chapters on pornography and prostitution, thieves and beggars, crooked police, prisons and punishment, and epic swindles that put one instantly in mind of modern Wall Street. Any reader who is at all salient on the points of current affairs in the West will find a wealth of eerie similarities between the political and social environment of the later 1800's and today.I recommend this book without reserve, however I will give the caveat that it's excellent for nibbling upon as one has a taste for it, as opposed to a face-hugging book. However, seeing as how it's a history sampler and a reference book, this is entirely forgivable in my scoring system.

  • Ralph
    2019-02-28 15:36

    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. As might be expected there is a heavy dose of Mayhew and a few other social commentators of the times, but The Victorian Underworld is anything but a rehash of old chestnuts. Police reports, confessions, memoirs, privately printed pamphlets, court records, literary sketches and newspaper accounts are woven together to present a vivid, in-depth view of crime, penology, morality and criminology up through the beginning of the last century, a time which, for good or ill, laid the foundations for our own attempts to maintain an ordered civilization. This book now has a prominent place in my library, both as a historical and criminology reference, and as a writer's aide.

  • Rena Sherwood
    2019-02-23 18:52

    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 and buy a copy instead of just taking it out of my library.

  • Betsy
    2019-03-15 20:42

    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. Mayhew, quoting him extensively and praising his work. At the end of the book there was a pointless look at "the future of crime," that actually left me less satisfied with the ending. I enjoyed the history, but it wasn't the best I've read.

  • Skut L
    2019-02-28 18:39

    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 21st century appear almost benign. Worth the read.

  • Melissa
    2019-03-15 19:54

    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.

  • Taysha
    2019-03-07 19:34

    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.

  • Wendy
    2019-02-25 19:48

    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.

  • Ned
    2019-03-06 20:32

    recommended via BoingBoing

  • Sarah
    2019-03-26 17:43

    A fascinating look into the poor and criminal world of the Victorian age. A little dense at times, but very interesting.

  • Mia
    2019-03-11 21:39

    Wasn't my cup of tea. Pun intended. :)

  • Anne
    2019-02-25 17:43

    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.

  • Maha
    2019-03-04 18:38

    Intriguing read - enchanting for a non-fiction piece of work. Interesting focus and thematic choices.