Chapter

Unwanted Missives and the Spread of Vice “Curious Tings,” Slander, and Blackmail from <i>Household Words</i> to the Fiction of George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Anthony Trollope

Catherine J. Golden

in Posting It

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780813033792
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813039336 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5744/florida/9780813033792.003.0005
Unwanted Missives and the Spread of Vice “Curious Tings,” Slander, and Blackmail from Household Words to the Fiction of George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and Anthony Trollope

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This chapter examines the negative impact of increased cheap correspondence. Harmful outcomes include the rise of unwanted and clandestine missives and indecent, indecipherable, and inappropriate mailings, ranging from threats of arson to live snakes, leeches, and lucifer matches. Contrary to pre-reform predictions that lowering postal rates would improve public morality, it actually worked instead to more glaringly expose preexisting problems and to facilitate the spread of certain vices. While twentieth-century critics align the Victorians with a heartless and unforgiving attitude toward sexual transgression and a commitment to almost puritanical standards, a different story emerges from objects of material culture: in making it affordable for the masses to use the mail, the Penny Post ironically turned the reformed Post Office into a mechanism for distributing curious missives, unwanted mail, immorality, slander, and blackmail — problems that carry into information technologies today.

Keywords: public morality; Penny Post; unwanted mail; immorality; Victorians

Chapter.  15651 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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