Index Penny dreadfuls
Aspects of the Victorian Book
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Penny dreadfuls  

The Victorian period encapsulates the rise and decline of the penny dreadful. Developing from chapbooks and broadsides, and given added impetus by the successful part publication of Dickens's novels, the early penny bloods provided cheap, entertaining reading for the rapidly growing urban working classes.

Often based on melodramas staged at the increasing number of 'minor' London theatres, or themselves rapidly dramatised, penny dreadfuls were originally crudely printed and illustrated. Proprietors such as Edward Lloyd and G.W.M. Reynolds took advantage of new advances in technology to raise the quality of their publications, and improve distribution. They paid contributors such as the prolific Thomas Peckett Prest (1810?-1859) and James Malcolm Rymer (1814-1884), and began to employ better artists. From the late 1830s penny weekly numbers, usually of eight pages, were stitched into coloured paper-wrapped monthly parts, with a volume titlepage sometimes issued in the final instalment.

By the 1880s specialist publishers like E. J. Brett and Hogarth House were using bright colour-printed wrappers and folding coloured plates to attract sales. Reduced paper duty and further technical improvements made it economic to offer sixteen page parts, but their profitability was always precarious. By this time the readership was largely juvenile, and from gothic, historic or domestic romances with some attempt at motivation and characterisation, penny dreadfuls became merely brutal tales of adventure, and later still, lively school stories with simple, bold illustrations.

Helen R. Smith

Production Introduction Printng technology Illustration Lithography 1860s wood engraving Photographically illustrated books Binding John Leighton bindings Publishing Introduction The Novel Yellowbacks Penny dreadfuls Children's books Magazines