Saturday, February 2, 2019

New Reprint of Ruth the Betrayer –


by EDWARD ELLIS


The first 8-page installment of Ruth the Betrayer; or, the Female Spy appeared on London newsstands on February 8, 1862, price one penny. The entire text, along with the complete wood-engraved parts illustrations by W.H. Thwaites, have been carefully edited by Dagni A. Bredeson, a professor of English at Eastern Illinois University and brought back to life by Valancourt Books in a handsome affordable reprint. 

Ruth The Betrayer is one of the greatest of all penny dreadfuls, and a long one at 416 pages, or 52 penny numbers. This modern edition runs to a fat 1119 pages with an appreciative introduction by Bredeson and two near contemporary articles in the appendix:

Anonymous, “Something  About Working Men, By One Of Themselves,” The Argosy, Sept 1, 1868
James Greenwood, “Penny Awfuls,” St. Paul’s Magazine, Vol XII, 1873

The author was “Edward Ellis,” and Dagni Bredeson writes that “it has been argued” that Charles Henry Ross was the author. I should point out that it was myself doing the arguing (I was a consultant on the book) and Dagni is cautious about making the claim (and quite rightly so) since there is no absolute proof.

George Vickers published a penny dreadful on August 2, 1863 with the long title Fanny White and her Friend Jack Rawlings, a Romance of a Young Lady Thief and a Boy Burglar, including their Artful Dodges, their Struggles and Adventures; Prisons and Prison-breakings, their Ups and Downs; and their Tricks upon Travellers, Etc., Etc. by The Author Of “Charley Wag.” Following a scene where Fanny addresses a religious society with a sex talk followed by an erotic fandango, the author of Fanny White states in the text on page 153;

“Those who kindly followed the fortunes of Master Charley Wag, a hero of mine who made a very successful debut some time ago in society, and of pretty Mrs. Ruth, the female spy and betrayer, will allow, I think, that I have somewhat freely exposed religious hypocrites. In Charley’s life you had a show-up of the “shepherds.” In Ruth’s adventures you had some rather singular details respecting London nunneries.” 

“Ruth” was Ruth the Betrayer; or, The Female Spy by Edward Ellis (the author of “Charley Wag”) published by John Dicks, No. 1 appearing February 8, 1862. The Halfpenny Gazette, whose proprietors were G. W. M. Reynolds and John Dicks, ran a serial called The Felon’s Daughter; or, Pamela’s Perils: a Romance of London, from the Palace to the Prison, by G. W. Armitage on March 15, 1862 and The Daughter of Midnight; or, Mysteries of London Life, by the author of “Ruth the Betrayer; or, The Female Spy” commenced with No. 21, July 25, 1863.

When The Felon’s Daughter was published in penny parts by John Dicks the title-page of the bound volume stated that it was “by the author of “Daughter of Midnight.” Thus “Edward Ellis,” was also “G. W. Armitage,” and “George Savage.” Based on my notes and reading of Charley, Ruth and Fanny, and comparing those with over 20 texts written under the name C. H. Ross I reached the conclusion that all three were were pseudonyms used by Charles Henry Ross (creator of the celebrated Ally Sloper) and his collaborator Henry Warren.

The title of Ruth the Betrayer; or, The Female Spy, was surely intended to invoke James Malcolm Rymer’s 1843 penny blood title Ada the Betrayed; or, The Murder at the Old Smithy. It was also a parody of the homicidal heroines made famous by Sensation novelists like Mary Braddon in books like Lady Audley’s Secret. A writer in The Saturday Review in 1866 referred to these as “crime and crinoline” romances. “Edward Ellis” was able to combine humor and horror in a manner that makes the serial adventures of Ruth Trail, Death’s Head, Jack Rafferty, Eneas Earthworm, Alice Tevellyan, Charley Crockford and the Cadbury Kid a thrilling and amusing book to curl up with when the winter wind is howling at the outer door. Ruth the Betrayer is a fantastic addition to any Victorian bookshelf.


Ruth the Betrayer is available now on Amazon or from Valancourt Books

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