Shown here is a typical pamphlet from the early 19th century which features details of a young lady supposedly born with a pig’s face, along with stories of Siamese twins and other physical curiosities. Though clearly ludicrous to modern readers, pig-faced women (and other far-fetched stories) were hugely popular in their appeal and appeared regularly in print from the 1600s onwards. The woman featured here was believed to live in London and - although clearly an urban myth perhaps concocted by journalists for comic effect - was genuinely believed to exist by many members of the public.
Human ‘curiosities’ provided a macabre form of entertainment to the general public during the 18th and 19th centuries. Though through modern eyes such exhibitions and publicity seem objectionable, contemporary audiences saw nothing wrong in reading about accidents of nature and physical deformities, details of which were published in a range of pamphlets and newspapers. Travelling shows, fairs, markets and taverns all hosted human exhibitions of human malformation, where hapless individuals suffering from diseases or born with physical disabilities were viewed by an eager audience.
- Article by:
- Ruth Richardson
- Reading and print culture, Popular culture
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.