Friday, January 1, 2021



Anonyma image above from Palace and Hovel: or, Phases of London Life 

by Daniel Joseph Kirwan, 1870. 

by John Adcock

(excerpt from Thieves Literature)

“(…) it was not long before she had disencumbered herself of all these ugly impediments, and stood in the ruddy glow and genial warmth, adorned only by her own loveliness –  but then, you know my heroine throughout has always been such a shocking slut.” – Fanny White and her Friend Jack Rawlings [1]

On August 9, 1863 The Women of London, A Thrilling Romance of Reality, giving an Insight into the Dangers and Temptations of a Woman’s Life in London was issued from the “Welcome Guest” Office, 4 Shoe-lane. Possibly the same work with a slightly different title, The Women of London Disclosing the Trials and Temptations of a Woman's Life in London With Occasional Glimpses of a Fast Career issued in penny numbers from George Vickers. 

One of the first prosecutions of the Society for the Prevention of Vice under the Obscene Publications Act of 1857, also known as Lord Campbell's Act, was of William Strange for an “obscene” publication called Women of London. On May 11, 1857, Strange, “who was a very respectable looking young man,” was sentenced to three months in prison but spared hard labour.

The title Women of London became notorious and was kept in print throughout the sixties and seventies from a variety of publishers. Likely the Vickers and Welcome Guest publications were different from those sold by pornographers Charles Perry and William Dugdale. William Strange and George Vickers had been associated with cheap literature all their lives, the fathers of both young publishers were among the radical unstamped pressmen of the 1830s and were acquaintances and neighbours of Holywell-street pornographer and Regency veteran William Dugdale.

William Strange Sr. had published an unstamped newspaper, Truth, and was one of many publishers of an obscene anti-Papist work, The Confessional Unmasked. George Vickers was responsible for the racy 1850 romance, The Merry Wives of London a Romance of Metropolitan Life, attributed to James Lindridge. The Reverend Jasper Sampson meets a lady at a ball and is thrown into a state of “intense fluttering.”

“Am I in godly company?” she whispered to him.

“The sons and daughters of Satan do abound here; but presently we will slay them with the sword of Gideon!” replied Jasper, giving her hand a palpable squeeze.

“Is it sinful to dance?”

“No; or else it were sinful to lie with a man.”

“Fie! That is natural!”

“Quite; and proper, too, when the parties are agreeable. The world must be populated, madam.”

“Verily it must; it was the law given to Abraham.”

“The wages of continence are death.”

“I feel it to be so. Would that we could pray!”

“On your back, madam – very proper wish; but not allowed here.”

One of the characters is a Bow Street Runner named Mr. Johnson, “a lean, but muscular fellow, with an eye as furtive as the ape’s, and as keen as the hawks.” His help is enlisted in finding and rescuing a disappeared young lady named Lucy.

“All right!” said the detective, plunging into a great coat, with large pockets, containing handcuffs, pistols, loaded and primed, and other etceteras of his agreeable profession. “Don’t talk here – plenty of time on the road,” said he, gulping down his brandy-and-water. “I know all about it. Special engine of course?”

“Certainly,” replied Walter, delighted with his new companions cool, prompt manner.

The Women of London was followed in 1864 by a spate of similar risqué penny numbers. The Work Girls of London; their Trials and Temptations and The Young Ladies of London; or, The Mysteries of Midnight issued forth from the Newsagents’ Publishing Company. The Outsiders of Society; or, the Wild Beauties of London and The Dashing Girls of London; or, The Six Beauties of St. James were published by Henry Lea on November 20, 1864. 

Young Ladies of London; or Night Scenes in the Haymarket was published by Lea in December 1864. The cover to the first number of The Outsiders of Society is illuminated with a woodcut captioned His Lordship Contemplates his Victim. Lord Vineyard is shown in the shadows, hunched over, and reaching furtively into his vest pocket. Before his predatory gaze, under a guttering candle, is a dying woman, whose child’s pale blonde face is the focus of the picture. This class of publication, recalling Reynolds’s Mysteries of London, usually pretended a social concern for the poor that did not match their mildly prurient content. 

The first publishing of Anonyma; or, Fair but Frail, A Romance of West-End Life, Manners, and “Captivating” People was in 1863, issued by George Vickers. The novel was “as vile a contribution to our blackguard literature as we have ever recorded in our monthly list of new books,” opined The Bookseller on September 30, 1863. In real-life Anonyma, also known as “Skittles,” was Catherine Walters, a fashionable member of the demi-monde born at Liverpool in 1839. She became famous in 1862 when she could be seen driving a pair of “the handsomest brown ponies eyes ever beheld” in Hyde Park. The “pretty horse-breaker” became notorious, so much so that West End shopkeepers displayed her photographed carte de visite in their windows.

When she ran off to America with a married nobleman named Aubrey de Vere Beauclerk, in January 1863, her house was opened to the public, who viewed her bedroom, “a mass of huge looking-glasses, blue silk and white and gold,” and sniggered over her meagre library containing The Royal Blue Book from 1858 to 1862, Dod’s Peerage, Who’s Who, Dunbar on Park Riding and a racing calendar.  It was reported in June 1864 that “After a sensational review which appeared of a shilling biography called Anonyma, 40,000 copies of the book were sold, and this the publisher attributes to the review.” An 1864 review of Anonyma and its successor Skittles a Biography of a Fascinating Woman found them “not a whit inferior in style, language, ability, or morality” to any current novels finding their way into the libraries of decent families.

Anonyma is rather sentimental. Skittles is outspoken and cynical, with a dash of humour. In Skittles the subject is treated somewhat in the manner of Fielding, while Anonyma might have been written by a rather rowdy Richardson.[2]

The reviewer for The Athenaeum held a different view of what he termed “Anonyma Literature,” issued in “yellow covers, with gaudy illustrations, which professes to tell the histories of certain infamous women,” concluding “no respectable bookseller would like his daughter to read such books, and no man who values his repute should suffer them to disgrace his shop.” 

Anonyma’s success birthed numerous similar tiles (as listed by the reviewer): Skittles, a Biography of a Fascinating Woman, Companion to Anonyma; Agnes Willoughby, a Tale of Love, Marriage and Adventure; Kate Hamilton, an Autobiography of a Gay Life and a “Love” Career; Left Her Home, a Tale of Adventure, in which the Fortunes and Misfortunes of a Charming Girl are Narrated; Incognita, a Tale of Love and Passion; Annie, or the Life of a Lady’s Maid, comprising a full Description of all the Curious Occurrences, Intrigues, Amours and Expedients of Fashionable Gay Life amidst the Aristocracy, and Revelations of a Detective. All these publications were published in “gaudy covers” and sold openly at railway stations.[3]

In the text of Ruth the Betrayer; or, The Female Spy, by Edward Ellis (February 8, 1862) the homicidal heroine is described as a detective but the word is used loosely to denote what Ruth is, in fact, a police informer. Ruth is “attached to a notorious Secret Intelligence Office, established by an ex-member of the police force, and her services were only rarely employed, as upon the present occasion, in connexion with the regular police.” In addition to her work as a police spy Ruth runs a bordello and shoots, stabs, and hacks to death any man who has the misfortune to cross her.

There was an indescribable something about this woman’s manner, degraded though she was by the hateful calling which she followed of spy and informer, that seemed sufficiently powerful to curb the tongue of the roughest, coarsest, and most lawless, and effectually to check any attempt at familiarity from those persons who might have thought that her temporary association with them, in moments like the present, placed them upon a footing of equality.

Tinsley Brothers would publish a more conventional 3-volume detective story by C.H. Ross in 1870 called A Private Inquiry. The hero is a converted thief turned amateur detective. The headline to the Spectator’s review (Oct. 15, 1870) read A “PENNY DREADFUL” IN THREE VOLUMES. A reviewer in The Athenaeum said, “It’s style and price forbid the supposition that it has been written for that portion of the poorer classes who revel in the penny horrors of cheap periodical literature, yet it is sad to think that any who could afford more wholesome reading should waste their time in the perusal of such gloomy rubbish.”

On May 15, 1864, The Revelations of a Lady Detective, a yellowback by the author of “Skittles” (William Stephens Hayward), was advertised in Lloyd’s newspaper, issued by J. A. Berger of 13 Catherine Street, Strand. There would seem to be some sort of relationship between J.A. Berger and E. Griffiths who shared the same premises. The same work (both advertisements listed the same contents) was in the hands of George Vickers, Angel-court, Strand on Oct 2, 1864. The Female Detective, edited by Andrew Forrester Jr (J. Redding Ware), “never before published,” was advertised in Reynolds's Newspaper on May 22, 1864 from Ward & Lock.[4] 

A latecomer to the genre, In the Shadows of Crime, Romantic Revelations of a Lady Detective, by R. J. Tucknor, was serialized December 8, 1894 in the Illustrated Police News.

[1] 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 Charlie Wag, George Vickers, Aug 8, 1863

[2] The Saturday Review, Feb 6, 1864, p.171, 172

[3] The Athenaeum, No. 1930, October 22, 1864, p.523

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