Strange Laughter: Early Penny Bloods and Humour (Paperback)
Penny bloods (sometimes called penny dreadfuls), serialised fiction stories sold for a penny or less in England in the period between 1837 and 1850, are currently studied as part of the history of the Gothic, focusing on the Gothic inheritance that can be found in some penny bloods. While this approach furthers our knowledge of certain penny bloods, it fails to account for the other generic inheritances that can be found in penny bloods, such as melodrama and the picaresque.
This study expands the understanding of early penny bloods by complicating the narrative that the core of the genre lies in its Gothic or violent content, by studying four texts through the lens of humour: The String of Pearls by James Malcolm Rymer, Valentine Vaux by Thomas Peckett Prest, Jack Rann by James Lindridge, and Paul Jones by Pierce Egan the Younger. Analysing the humour that is present on the surface of these stories not only reveals how they engage with their generic inheritances, it also shows the wide range of politics present throughout the genre, both underpinning as well as subverting conventional hierarchies in turn. Through these four texts, this thesis explores the patchwork of influences as well as the wide variety of tropes and story structures that are part of the generic core of the penny blood.