DEADLY ENCOUNTERS: Two Victorian Sensations by Richard D. Altick

DEADLY ENCOUNTERS: Two Victorian Sensations

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Altick's modus operandi was to sit in a newspaper archive and copy down anything relating to two Victorian murder cases. He states proudly, ""I have invented no detail, however insignificant."" Invented, no, but included, yes. The amount of sheer detail renders the stories top-heavy with academic seriousness. After all, the whole thing only amounts to a bunch of Brits doing each other most foul. Through stabbings and garrottings, Altick is the soul of sobriety, fastened to his chair in that ""splendid institution for the preservation of the historic moment,"" as he fondly terms his library. After a brief, unconvincing preface quoting Wordsworth, Altick rolls up his sleeves for gore aplenty, quoting newspaper descriptions such as this: "". . .fragments of the usurer's scalp seemed to have flown from his head under the blows of Major Murray's pair of tongs, and adhered to the paper hangings; in one spot a stream of wine had soaked into a mass of gore. . ."" etc. Then there is the mention of ""a mutilated creature, whose head was a mass of bloodstained pulp, one of whose eyes was a mere lump of purulent jelly. . ."" These samples may give an idea of the kind of violence being purveyed here. The author is of course thorough in his research, revelling in detailed footnotes on minor characters, who fail to interest the reader as much as they do Altick. Mopping up after the gore at the end of his book, the author attempts to give intellectual significance to it all. His pickings are slim. A better study might be written on why prolonged time in academia turns so many hearts to the subject of murder and violence. One of Altick's main references, for example, is a Princeton Press book entitled The Maniac in the Cellar.

Pub Date: July 1st, 1986
Publisher: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press