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Peter Haining – The Penny Dreadful

Posted by demonik on September 1, 2007

Peter Haining -The Penny Dreadful or, Strange, Horrid And Sensational Tales! (Victor Gollancz, Jan. 1975, 1976)

Introduction – Peter Haining
Anon – The Monster Of Scotland (from “The Terrific Register”)
Anon – The Dead Alive (“The Calendar Of Horrors”)
Anon – The Robbery Of The Astrologer (“The Life Of Dick Turpin”)
Pierce Egan jnr. – The Ambush Of Death (“Robin Hood”)
Renton Nicholson – The Actor’s Tale (“Dombey And Daughter”)
G. W. M. Reynolds – The Body-Snatchers (“Mysteries Of London”)
Thomas Peckett Prest – The Last Batch Of Pies (“Sweeney Todd”)
James Malcolm Rymer – The Resuscitation Of A Vampyre (“Varney The Vampyre”)
Percy B. St. John – Buried Alive! (“Jessie, The Mormon’s Daughter”)
Hannah Maria Jones – The Life Of A Murderer (“The Shipwrecked Stranger”)
Thomas Frost – The Abduction (“Paul The Poacher”)
James Lindridge – The Episode Of The Knights Of The Round Table (“The Merry Wives Of London”)
Paul de Kock – Sister Anne
Eugene Sue – The Raft Of Death
Ned Buntine – The Mad Wolf
J. H. Ingraham – The League Of ‘The Thirty’
Anon – Confessions Of A Deformed Lunatic (“The People’s Periodical”)
Anon – The Rosicrucian (“Reynolds Miscellany”)
Anon – Stanfield Hall (“London Journal”)
Anon – “Jack Rushton: or, Alone In The Pirates’ Lair (“Boys Of England”)
Anon – Caractacus, Champion Of The Arena (“The Arena Of Blood”)
G. A. Sala – The Vault Of Death (“Guy Fawkes”)
Bracebridge Hemyng – Jack Harkaway (“The Road To Adventure”)
James Greenwood – “Penny Packets Of Poison”
” Horrible Murder And Human Pie-Makers”
George Reynolds – To My Readers

Anon – The Monster Of Scotland: Sawney Beane and his clan snatch innocent travellers, drag them back to their cave then pickle and eat them. “In the conflict the poor woman fell from behind him, and was instantly butchered before her husband’s face, for the female cannibals cut her throat, and fell to sucking her blood with as great a gust, as if it had been wine”. This exciting and incredibly gory history is usually credited to Captain Charles Johnson, although it probably wasn’t new when he included it in his General History Of The Most Famous Highwaymen, etc. (1734). It’s even been suggested that ‘Johnson’ was Daniel Defoe.

Pierce Egan, jnr. – The Ambush Of Death: Robin Hood duels with Sir Guy of Gisborne and lops his head off. Donning his victim’s cape, he seeks out the Baron who has taken Little John captive. Masquerading as Gisborne, he asks as his reward that John be set free so that he can defeat him in hand to hand combat. “He threw the gashed head of Sir Guy into the Baron’s arms, who as instantly threw it among his men with a roar of horror, as if it had been a ball of red hot iron. None of them were more eager than the lord to retain possession of it and it fell to the ground to be kicked from one to the other.” Will Scarlet and the band arrive, and Robin and his Merry Men send the Baron on his way with an arrow in his arse!

Anon – The Dead Alive or, The Mendicant Robber Of Orleans: Short but brutal. A robber is broken on the wheel, a process that involves his being bound and clubbed until every bone is broken. When the executioner declares him dead, he’s handed over to the surgeon for dissection, but hardly has that worthy raised his scalpel than he revives! With the aid of a ‘proper cordial’, the robber is soon his old self again, albeit minus the odd limb. He bids his caring doctors a cheery farewell and takes up a new career as a beggar. Despite his relative prosperity, he soon lets his greed get the better of him again. Oh dear.

Anon – The Robbery Of The Astrologer: Decidedly minor piece. Dick Turpin and his men rob an Astrologer at Little Britain – you’d think the old fool would have seen it coming but he and his accomplice are frauds so heroic Dick is doing society a favour by separating him from their ill-gotten. The encounter ends in a flurry of imaginative verbal abuse before the Turpin gang ride off home to sunny Aldgate. Brief cameo by Thomas Tankard of The Jonas & Whale warrants an honorary mention on the ‘Worlds Worst Landlord’ thread.

George Augustus Sala – The Vault Of Death:

“To the rack with him!” yelled the indignant noble in a voice of fury.
Quick as the words were uttered Guy Fawkes was seized.
He made a desperate resistance but all was in vain.
His foes were too many for him. He was forcibly dragged to the rack and bound firmly hand and foot upon it.
“Proceed with the torture!” cried the noble, passionately.
The grim executioners immediately thrust their iron-tipped levers into the rollers of the rack and gave them a turn.
Another moment and Guy Fawkes’s limbs would have been torn from their sockets.
At this critical juncture, however, a wild scream rang out loudly in the vaulted cell, and the frenzied face of a girl appeared, though unseen, at the grated window.

And so on. Guy is eventually freed by Evelyn the dancing girl and her rude companions and ferried off down the Thames, presumably to be reunited with true love Violet at a later date.

James Malcolm Rymer – The Resuscitation Of A Vampire: Varney and his mates preside over the resurrection of Mr. Brooks the moneylender on Hampstead Heath. Brooks staggers off, wringing his hands, moaning into the night, and bowling over a watchman who can’t step out of his way fast enough.. Rymer spices this remarkable chapter with some scathing social comment

“Kind Mr. Brooks. He only took one hundred percent. Why should he be a vampire? Bless him! Too severe, really!
There were people who called him a bloodsucker while he lived, and now he was one practically, and yet he had his own pew at church, and subscribed a whole guinea a year to a hospital – he did, although people did say it was in order that he might pack off any of his servants at once in case of illness. But then the world is so censorious.”

Ned Buntine – The Mad Wolf: October 1883. The narrator and his three companions are returning from a successful trapping adventure through injun territory when they’re attacked by a rabid wolf. One by one they’re overcome by insanity. Alexandre, complaining of illness, is the first to succumb and sets fire to the tent. The other men stake him out and he expires raving in the night. Worthington wanders off leaving just our man and Verboncoer, both of whom are terrified as they’ve seen the lunacy in the others eyes. It’s the Frenchman who snaps first and begs his colleague to blow his brains out. He eventually manages to do it himself. The last man standing staggers on until he reaches a trading post. He puts his survival down to “free use of liquor and salt.”

Anon – Confessions Of A Deformed Lunatic: The narrator is unwittingly responsible for the death of a child in his care when he plays a silly prank on him. The boys mother is the only person who has ever been kind to the misshapen one and the tragedy drives her insane. She lives out her days in the same Asylum as the “murderer.” Overwrought, as you’d imagine but somehow fails to live up to its glorious title.

G. W. M. Reynolds – The Bodysnatchers: A great thing about the Penny Dreadfuls is that often the chapters are self-contained stories in themselves, and such is the case here. For The Bodysnatchers, Reynolds adopts a documentary approach to his subject-matter. Loosely based on the exploits of the Bethnal Green Gang, the author introduces us to the ghastly crew – The Resurrection Man, The Cranksman and the Buffer – as they set out to meet their client, the surgeon, at the gates of Shoreditch Church. He shows them the grave of a young woman and they set to work with an efficiency born of vast experience.

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