Strange Victoriana, the first from my massive pile of Christmas swag, is an entertaining collection of the weird, wonderful, spooky, salacious, and sometimes downright macabre stories taken from the Illustrated Police News (IPN) – an immensely popular tabloid of the time (you’ll have seen some of its illustrations before, particularly if you’ve ever had any kind of interest in the Jack the Ripper case which the IPN went to town on).
Victorians are often thought of as incredibly repressed and prudish, while a quick peruse through these pages reflects a society that’s actually anything but – revelling in the stories of brutal crimes, society scandals, and downright gawking at anything out of the norm.
Inside you’ll find female sleepwalkers and daredevils, competitive shavers and fasters (I can’t imagine how bored you’d have to be to find someone fasting entertaining), a long parade of plonkers undertaking wagers inside lion’s cages, fighting ghosts, medical curiosities, animal hoarders, and many, many murders.
While noting that the IPN wasn’t above printing fabrications from across the world while also happily making up its own, the quality of its illustrations still stand out and bring some of Victorian society’s fascinations into sharper relief (they really liked an unconscious woman who they could draw in disarray).
There were some times at the beginning of the book when the author’s constant “in my books ‘Blah Blah’ and ‘Whatever’ I talked about…” but thankfully they fell by the wayside quickly so we could concentrate on the stories instead, resulting in a book that is entertaining and easy to drop in and out of – would make for particularly great toilet reading!