John Murray, 1998
used hardback
Fr. 15.--

Donald Thomas

The Victorian Underworld

William Makepeace Thackeray once wrote that the wonders of the Victorian underworld “have been lying by your door and mine ever since we had a door of our own.” Donald Thomas here pushes open that door to reveal a world at once both strange and strangely familiar, inviting casual voyeur and serious historian alike to cross its threshold. Applying his talent for colorful biography to chronicle an entire age, Thomas shows us an underworld through the eyes of its inhabitants. Defined by night houses and cigar divans, populated by street people like the running-patterer with his news of murder, and entertainers like the Fire King, the underworld was an insular yet diffuse community, united by its deep hatred of the police. In its gin shops and taverns, thrived thieves and beggars, cheats, forgers, and pickpockets, preying on rich and poor alike. Career criminals often showed a craftsmanship that would put their descendants to shame. It took true professionals to remove the modern equivalent of twenty million dollars from the Bank of England. In one case, conspirators even recruited officers from Scotland Yard. Those who failed in such enterprises found themselves in the convict hulks, where the annual mortality rate might reach 40 percent, or in the new prisons, their faces masked and identified only by numbers. Rich in anecdote and vividly recounted, The Victorian Underworldbrings the past alive like few recent works of history.