The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime by Judith Flanders - review by Andrew Lycett

Andrew Lycett

Inspector Bucket Calls

The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime

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Brutal killings in London’s East End provide both the curtain raiser and final act for Judith Flanders’s insightful and dramatic staging of the story of Victorian Britain’s love–hate relationship with murder: the slaughter of Timothy Marr and his family on Ratcliff Highway in 1811, and Jack the Ripper’s notorious rampage through Whitechapel in 1888.

Unlike George Orwell who, in Decline of the English Murder, dated the apogee or ‘Elizabethan period’ of the perfect English homicide to between ‘roughly’ 1850 and 1925, the more sociological Flanders courses through the long nineteenth century to investigate something a bit different – how the British learnt to ‘savour the thrill of murder’.

Over this time frame, she argues, it became acceptable to show enthusiasm for killing. Executions had always been spectacles, but now the emerging media – initially old-fashioned broadsides, but increasingly the press, theatre and book trade – began not merely to reflect but to pander to this insatiable

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