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2.6 - Gothic Fiction, from Shilling Shockers to Penny Bloods

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 July 2020

Catherine Spooner
Affiliation:
Lancaster University
Dale Townshend
Affiliation:
Manchester Metropolitan University
Angela Wright
Affiliation:
University of Sheffield
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Summary

Though it comprised the most circulated and consumed artefacts of the nineteenth-century literary marketplace, Gothic ‘street’ fiction nonetheless has occupied a critical blindspot in literary histories. Notwithstanding their evanescence, short, cheap Gothic works proliferated from the 1770s to the 1880s, appearing in millions of copies to satisfy the demands of a rapidly expanding reading public. This chapter explores the development of street literature, from its early, short bluebook format (1780–1830) to its later incarnation as the penny blood serial (1840–1870). The origins of street Gothic in prose forms and the print culture dynamics are considered, alongside close analysis of key themes, plots and tropes of the bluebooks and penny bloods. The chapter concludes by considering the twilight of street Gothic, with the emergence of the penny dreadful (1860–1900), which was aimed at a juvenile male audience. While literary scholarship has dismissed both as minor, derivative examples of Gothic literature, the chapter argues for the significant contribution made by a rich and dynamic network of authors and publishers.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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