The Grisly Reading Habits of Victorian Children

November 1, 2021

At Atlas Obscura, Sarah Durn looks at the history of penny dreadfuls, “grisly tales of murder, crime, and the supernatural” that enthralled Victorian children and teenagers and kept them reading. “The popularity of penny dreadfuls had another side,” Durn writes. “They helped to promote literacy, especially among younger readers, at a time when, for many children, formal education was nonexistent or, well, Dickensian. […] People were invested in the stories of Jack Harkaway and Sweeney Todd, and there was only one good way to keep up—learn to read.”

is a writer and illustrator. She is the author of two illustrated books, Last Night's Reading (Penguin Books, 2015) and Sanpaku (Archaia 2018).

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