The Newgate Calendar is the original source that inspired 'Newgate novels', also known as the 'Newgate school' – derogatory terms applied to early 19th century fiction that portrayed criminals' lives. Famously, it was a label applied to Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens’s contemporaries including William Makepeace Thackeray. This was much to Dickens’ horror – although the Calendar does appear twice in the novel (Chapter XX and Chapter XLIII), ‘the pages … soiled and thumbed with use’.
A record of criminal's crimes, testimonies and executions, The Newgate Calendar is a strange and gruesomely detailed mix of fact and sensational fiction. Crude woodcuts accompany each entry, illustrating the crime or the execution. For Oliver Twist, ‘The terrible descriptions were so real and vivid, that the sallow pages seemed to turn red with gore’. It ran to many editions and different copies, bearing the same name, were compiled by competing editors and publishers. It was extremely popular reading; Henry Mayhew records that displaced boys in lodging houses would read it aloud to a group. The pocket size of this edition suggests that it would have been both affordable and easily portable.
Critics feared that books such as this, and novels in the same tradition, would not only inspire copycat crimes but also glamorise crime as a way of life that led to fame and posterity. Indeed, certain figures immortalised here – such as Jack Sheppard – are still known today.
- Full title:
- Pocket Newgate calendar; a series of authentic memoirs of characters most famous in their day, for having committed the crimes of murder, housebreaking
- 1840, London
- Book / Illustration / Image
- Charles Cavendish
- Usage terms
- Public Domain
- Held by
- British Library
- Article by:
- Moira Goff
- Satire and humour, Theatre and entertainment
The Beggar's Opera was an instant hit and became the most performed play of the 18th century. Moira Goff explores the elements that made up John Gay's work, from its popular tunes and dances to its satirical targets and depiction of a criminal underworld.
- Article by:
- Andrew Dickson
- Theatre and entertainment, Satire and humour
Andrew Dickson introduces The Beggar's Opera and its many satirical targets, including the court of George I, the politician Robert Walpole, the British legal system and Italian opera.
- Article by:
- Philip Horne
- The novel 1832–1880, London, Crime and crime fiction
Dickens's Oliver Twist depicts the excitement as well as the danger surrounding the criminal underworld. Here Professor Philip Horne examines how Dickens’s portrayal of crime was influenced by public executions, contemporary criminal slang and other sensational literary works.