Article

The Newgate Novel

Lyn Pykett

in Victorian Literature

ISBN: 9780199799558
Published online March 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199799558-0066
The Newgate Novel

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Newgate novels take their name from the London prison, destroyed by fire in 1780, whose more illustrious or infamous inmates lived on in popular broadsheets and ballads and in The Newgate Calendar; or, the Malefactor’s Bloody Register, which can be accessed online. First published in 1773, but reissued in many editions in the early 19th century, The Newgate Calendar fed the popular fascination with crime and criminals with its accounts of their lives, trials, confessions, punishments, and, sometimes, escapes. The Newgate label was attached by (usually hostile) critics in the 1830s and 1840s to a relatively small group of extremely popular novels that focused on the lives of real or invented criminals. The most prominent Newgate authors were Edward Bulwer (later Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton), whose Paul Clifford (1830) was the first to receive the Newgate tag, and Harrison Ainsworth, whose Jack Sheppard (1839–1840) was the most popular and notorious of the Newgate novels; along with its numerous stage adaptations, the novel provoked “Jack Sheppard” mania. Other Newgate novels include Bulwer’s Eugene Aram (1832), Lucretia (1846), and Ainsworth’s historical romance, Rookwood (1834). Dickens became caught up in the Newgate controversy with his portrayal of his hero’s sojourn among the criminals in Oliver Twist (1837–1839), whose serialization in Bentley’s Miscellany overlapped with Jack Sheppard. Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge has sometimes been treated as a Newgate novel because of the nature of its crime plot and its depiction of the destruction of Newgate Prison during the Gordon riots of 1780. Thackeray, one of the genre’s main critics, produced his own parody of it in Catherine; a Story (serialized in Fraser’s Magazine, 1839–1840).

Article.  5499 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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