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’ contemporaries including William Makepeace Thackeray. This was much to Dickens’s 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.
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 and Dick Turpin – are still known today.
- Full title:
- The Newgate Calendar; comprising interesting memoirs of the most notorious characters who have been convicted of outrages on the laws of England since the commencement of the eighteenth century; with anecdotes and last exclamations of sufferers.
- 1824-26, London
- Book / Illustration / Image
- Andrew Knapp, William Balwin
- Usage terms
- Public Domain
- 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:
- John Mullan
- The novel 1832–1880, Crime and crime fiction
Crime exists as a powerful psychological force throughout Dickens’s Great Expectations. Professor John Mullan examines the complicated criminal web in which the novel’s protagonist, Pip, finds himself caught.
- Article by:
- Judith Flanders
- Reading and print culture, Popular culture, Crime and crime fiction
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.