2008: 8. The Victorian Underworld

“Much of the fascination of the Victorian age derives from its strange familiarity.”

The Victorian Underworld, Kellow Chesney

Oh, do I have a blog? Who knew?? It feels like forever since I put fingers to keypad.  Luckily, I have been reading, if not blogging and I have lots to say about the books I’ve been reading lately...

This was my latest commuting book* - after I read one shelf sitter per shelf from my the fiction section of my library, I picked one non-fiction book (the thought of reading all those non-fiction unread books was a little too daunting).  This is a book that I bought in college, when I was studying abroad in London and taking a class on Victorian England at Unversity College London.**  However, because the way they teach classes over there (or at least the class that I took), I never read it.  Basically, the professor gave us a long reading list, and told us to read what we thought we needed too, and then we’d show up for class and talk about various topics.  But since we hadn’t necessarily done the same reading, discussion was a little, um, pedagogically unsatisfying. 


Anyway, this book is a tour through the Victorian Underworld, describing the various types of crime that flourished in the last century (or, yikes two centuries ago) England.  It’s sort of a classic history text - written in the 1970’s, I think it was probably pretty ground breaking at the time - the beginnings of this sort of social history/history of the underworld and oppressed.  From a modern perspective, where I’ve read a lot of different sort of books like this (both scholarly and popular), and I found it to be dry.  Chesney is writing about an inherently fascination subject, but seems more interested describing the details of, say, safebreaking, than making us understand the kind of people who safebreak.  It seems more encyclopedic than illuminating.  The different types of crime were interesting, but I didn’t feel like I really understood why the era was such a rich time for crime and criminals - why the Underworld was such a force in Victorian life. 


*By the way, expect much less in the way of commuting books this year - I’ve been walking both ways to work, so I’m missing my long bus ride home.  I might need to come up with a new way to read my shelf sitters!!


** And pitifully mooning over my now-husband, but that’s another story.


Recommended for:  Novelists who want to make their Victorian novels seem authentic, true crime buffs, people obsessed with Victoriana


Date/Place Completed: 1/708; Atlanta

Categories:  Fiction; Commuting Book

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017