Empathy or Entertainment? The Form and Function of Violent Crime Narratives in Early-Nineteenth Century Broadsides
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This article will explore the meaning and morality of popular accounts of violent crime in early-nineteenth century broadsides. Broadsides were a form of street literature and, for almost 300 years until the latter half of the nineteenth century, they were a forerunner to our modern tabloid newspapers. These flimsy sheets were published on a wide range of topics, but by far the most prevalent were those covering violent crime, especially murder. The publication of these broadsides reached a peak in the first half of the nineteenth century and their popular appeal was greatest among the labouring poor. This has led several critics, both then and now, to dismiss this cheap literature as merely gruesome and sensationalistic entertainment, appealing to the evidently debased and ignorant tastes of the uneducated masses. However, this article will argue that not only were these broadsides often far less gory than others have claimed, but also that these representations of murder held more social significance than vicarious gratification for their readers. For what is often overlooked is the fact that these dramatic depictions of violent crime reveal compassion rather than cruelty, and this article therefore will suggest that early-nineteenth century broadsides, in emphasising murder, actually reflected tastes that were more moral than morbid.
Bates, K. (2014) ' Empathy or Entertainment? The Form and Function of Violent Crime Narratives in Early-Nineteenth Century Broadsides’, Law, Crime and History, 4(2), pp. 1-27. Available at: https://pearl.plymouth.ac.uk/handle/10026.1/8900
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