Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton And Other Singular Tales from the Victorian Press by Jeremy Clay

I tagged this as humour and, though I laughed, I must admit I finished this book thoroughly depressed...

Jeremy Clay, a journalist himself, compiled the most bizarre news articles from the Victorian age  and presented them divided by category: Animals, Love, Marriage and Family, Food and Drink, Health and Medicine, Coincidence and Luck, Sports, Hobbies and Pastimes, Inventions, Life and Death, Superstition, Arts and Entertainment, and a few others which defied classification.

Not to say that each and every one of these categories didn't contain extremely amusing stories, but more often than not there were articles about husbands beating and selling their wives, parents selling their children, people committing suicide in front of an audience (sometimes the audience was entirely comprised of children), mothers losing their children in horrific circumstances, and children living in appallingly abusive conditions.
I cannot say I didn't get fair warning, before each section Clay writes a short intro - I must say, these intros were the weakest points in the book, and that's saying something when more often than not Victorian journalists eschewed description with the handy, "[events] may be more readily imagined than described." Clay uses similes which try to be shockingly funny, but end up being neither, for instance: "Like a spray of urine from a territorial tom cat, [these dates] merely mark the boundaries of our interest."

But for anyone interested in the bizarre, and the Victorian era (which, more often than not, go hand in hand), it's well worth reading.
I'll finish with my favourite article, to give you a taste of the book:

                                                       A Strange Adventure
A curious canoe adventure is reported from Frankfurt. Some members of the boat club in that city resolved to row to Mayence by night. They started at 12 o’clock, and pulled away vigorously all night, enjoying the pull exceedingly.
At sunrise it was discovered to their great chagrin that the anchor had not been weighed, and that they had remained at the same spot where they had taken leave of their friends, by whom they are now known as ‘the explorers.’
                                                       The Evening News, Portsmouth, November 4, 1882

Jeremy Clay's bio

Buy The Burglar Caught by a Skeleton And Other Singular Tales from the Victorian Press
@ The Book Depository (with free worldwide delivery!)

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