Penny dreadful, The Black Band


‘The amount of crime, treachery, murder and slow poisoning, & general infamy required by the halfpenny reader is something terrible,’ complained Mary Elizabeth Braddon in a letter to a friend in 1860. And yet by selling her work in serial form for a half-penny at a time, Braddon became hugely rich and famous, later being called ‘The Queen of Sensation Fiction’. The Black Band’s plot more than lives up to its sensational billing, featuring as it does a seductive lady murderer who happens to run a Europe-wide network of other murderers. 

Braddon’s singular contribution to the development of the ‘halfpenny’ novel was, however, to domesticate it. Instead of the highwaymen and pirates who thronged the cheap serial novels of previous decades, Braddon tended to concentrate first and foremost on middle-class families perhaps only a shade richer than the people likely to read her work. No matter how many unlikely events occurred in her plots (mistaken identities, people returning from the dead, etc.), the spine of most of her work was recognisably in the English domestic tradition. Along with novels such as Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White, Braddon’s work took the sensation-seeking atmosphere of early ‘halfpenny’ novels and introduced realism to it.

Full title:
The Black Band; or, the Mysteries of Midnight
1876-77, London
Penny dreadful / Serial / Illustration / Image
Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

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