Popular culture

From circuses and ‘freak shows’ to broadsides and novels, from pleasure gardens and music hall to chapbooks and penny dreadfuls, Georgian and Victorian Britain had a diverse and extraordinary range of entertainments for the masses.
Penny dreadfuls

Penny dreadfuls

Article by:
Judith Flanders

The penny dreadful was a 19th-century publishing phenomenon. Judith Flanders explains what made these cheap, sensational, highly illustrated stories so popular with the Victorian public.

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Popular culture

Popular culture

Article by:
Liza Picard

From music halls and waxworks to freak shows and pleasure gardens, Liza Picard looks at the variety of popular entertainment available in the 19th century.

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Murder as entertainment

Murder as entertainment

Article by:
Judith Flanders

Looking at broadsides, cheap pamphlets and the works of Charles Dickens, Judith Flanders explores how crime in the 19th century – particularly gruesome murder and executions – served as entertainment in both fiction and real life.

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Street Literature

Street Literature

Article by:
Ruth Richardson

From public notes and broadsides to catchpennies and printed songs, Dr Ruth Richardson examines the variety of street literature which informed and entertained the public before newspapers were readily available.

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Victorian Christmas

Victorian Christmas

Article by:
Judith Flanders

Judith Flanders describes how many of our own Christmas traditions – from trees and crackers to cards and carols – have their origins in 19th-century industrial and commercial interests.

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The Great Exhibition

The Great Exhibition

Article by:
Liza Picard

The Great Exhibition, housed within the ‘Crystal Palace’, displayed Prince Albert’s vision of exhibiting industry. Liza Picard looks at the exhibits, the building and the ideas behind it all which attracted millions of visitors during 1851.

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Popular culture and the impact of industrialisation

Popular culture and the impact of industrialisation

Article by:
Paul Schlicke

Industrialisation had a dramatic effect upon all aspects of Victorian life. Paul Schlicke examines how it led to the growth of commercial entertainment and the presence of these new cultural forms in the novels of Charles Dickens.

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Theatre in the 19th century

Theatre in the 19th century

Article by:
Jacky Bratton

At the beginning of the 19th century, there were only two main theatres in London. Emeritus Professor Jacky Bratton traces the development of theatre throughout the century, exploring the proliferation of venues, forms and writers.

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Chapbooks

Chapbooks

Article by:
Ruth Richardson

Chapbooks were small, affordable forms of literature for children and adults that were sold on the streets, and covered a range of subjects from fairy tales and ghost stories to news of politics, crime or disaster. Dr Ruth Richardson explains what this literature looked like, its subject matter and the ways in which it was produced.

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Sensation novels

Sensation novels

Article by:
Matthew Sweet

Sensation novels play on the nerves and thrill the senses. Matthew Sweet considers some of the key features of the genre, as well as its three founding texts, all published in the 1860s: The Woman in White, Lady Audley's Secret and East Lynne.

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Further themes

Romanticism

What inspired the iconic poetry of the Romantic period?

The Gothic

What characterises Gothic literature and what does it reveal about the periods in which it was written?

Childhood and children's literature

Was children’s literature intended to entertain or instruct?

Crime and crime fiction

Why was crime such a popular subject in 19th-century fiction?

The novel 1780-1832

From Georgian gentry to Gothic horror, what characterised the literature of this period?

The novel 1832 - 1880

How did the iconic writers of this period experiment with fantasy, sensationalism, realism and social commentary?

Fin de siècle

How did the literature of this period reflect attitudes to gender, sexuality, immigration, class and scientific discovery?

Victorian poetry

How did the Victorian poets approach composition, form and language, and what inspired their subjects?

Poverty and the working classes

How did Victorian writers respond to the shocking inequalities of Victorian society?

Power and politics

How did writers respond to the tumultuous political events of this period?

Reading and print culture

How did rising literacy rates, libraries and new technologies influence the literature people read?

Technology and science

How did 19th century authors respond to the new possibilities afforded by technology and science?

The middle classes

How were the tensions surrounding social mobility explored in the literature of the period?

Visions of the future

How did the 19th-century literature reflect contemporary fears of social, political and technological change?

Gender and sexuality

How were gender roles embedded in the literature of the period and were they ever subverted?