Jekyll and Hyde – Victorian Secrets and a Text

Interesting that even Penguin got the title wrong. There is no “the” at the beginning of Stevenson’s original

Last time I looked at the genesis of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Now I would like to examine something of what Stevenson intended in this published version, in effect a fresh draft of his original idea. And I’d like to suggest that Stevenson, in a mischievous Hyde-ian mood, plays with the reader throughout the text, deliberately manipulating reactions and assumptions in a very clever way. Touching the nerve of an audience who were mostly very well aware of just what he was getting at.

Now this latter point has been undervalued for much of the novel’s published life, because we lack the ability to see the story in the way its first readers did. They did not know that Jekyll and Hyde were the same person. We do know and it’s hard to put that thought out of our minds. But let’s try to do so.

The novel is presented through the eyes of several characters, all of them – except one – unreliable narrators, because they only know a part of what is happening and are bringing their own social assumptions to what they see.

The principal narrator is Utterson, Jekyll’s friend and lawyer. Then there is Richard Enfield, a friend of Utterson’s who reveals a tiny bit of the tale to him. There is a second-hand account from a housemaid who may, because of her romantic leanings, be the most unreliable narrator of all. There is Dr Lanyon, who finds out the truth too late though he imparts it in a letter to Utterson. And there is Dr Jekyll himself, who knows the whole truth – but how he presents it is questionable.

Rather skilfully, Stevenson shows us that a first-person account may be loaded to produce a certain interpretation. His Jekyll wants, through his confession, to present himself in the best possible light. Though given what has happened that’s not too easy for him to do. Stevenson presents those difficulties in the sub-text.

I posit the thought that here is how the first readers might have perceived the story from its opening. Dr Jekyll, a respectable scientist of around fifty, has somehow come into acquaintanceship with a much younger man, Edward Hyde. Hyde is given the run of Jekyll’s house, is obviously being kept by him, has been provided with a home of his own in Soho, and become the legatee in Jekyll’s will – which Jekyll has lodged with Utterson with the instructions that Hyde should have the full rein of Jekyll’s property if the latter should disappear.

We are told that in his youth Jekyll was wild and had ‘certain appetites’. Stevenson doesn’t actually say what these appetites were. The reader is left to make up his or her own mind, though once again Stevenson loads the dice. I suggest that, in the mind of the Victorian reader, there would be only two possibilities strong enough to shock – sexual appetites or drugs. And given that many Victorians took substances that are now illegal, and quite regularly at that, probably the former.

It is quite clear, and not just from some sub-textual reading, that Hyde appears to have Jekyll in thrall to him. Utterson, in his narration, believes that Hyde is blackmailing Jekyll. But why?

The suggestion has been made that early readers might have thought this to be a homosexual relationship, where a rent boy is blackmailing a client. A not unusual scenario in the London of this period, as Oscar Wilde found to his cost.

This gay theory receives a boost from the incident in the tale where Hyde murders the supposedly respectable Member of Parliament Sir Danvers Carew.

This scene is worth looking at in some detail, though we have to bear in mind that we are seeing it through what is effectively the witness statement of a housemaid, who only observes it from a distant window. She witnesses the encounter between Carew and Hyde. It is eleven o’clock at night. She reports that:

‘an aged and beautiful gentleman with white hair, drawing near along the lane; and advancing to meet him, another and very small gentleman (Hyde)… When they had come within speech…the old man bowed and accosted the other with a very pretty manner of politeness. It did not seem as if the subject of his address were of great importance; indeed, from his pointing, it sometimes appeared as if he were only inquiring his way; but the moon shone on his face as he spoke, and the girl was pleased to watch it, it seemed to breathe such an innocent and old-world kindness of disposition, yet with something too, of a well-founded self-content.’ (My italics) Notice those qualifications: Why only ‘seemed to breathe such an old-world kindness of disposition’?

The maid then sees Hyde become enraged and beat Carew to death with a heavy walking cane.

What were the first readers of Jekyll and Hyde meant to make of this? Here is a wealthy gentleman, supposedly respectable, though down by the river late at night, accosting a young man of what was then considered to be the lower classes in a very pretty manner of politeness?

Stevenson, of course, given the time of publication, couldn’t be more specific. But I would suggest that he knew perfectly well what he was implying. Every man about town, and Stevenson had certainly been one of them in his time, would have understood the principles of homosexual pick-ups, even if – like Stevenson – they were heterosexual themselves.

The other time we see Hyde using violence is earlier in the novel where he knocks down and tramples a little girl. This is shown to us as an impatient act of violence only. Yet even some of the novel’s first readers put a different construction upon it, drawing upon the time they were living in.

In a letter to his friend Robert Bridges, the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins suggested that ‘The trampling scene perhaps a convention: he was talking of something unsuitable for fiction.’

Stevenson presents us with an image of Hyde paying off the father of the little girl with a cheque from Jekyll’s cheque book. We are perhaps meant to be reminded of W.T.Stead’s journalistic purchase of a young girl in his famous expose of child prostitution, which was the scandal celebre of London at the time. It happened in the same year that Stevenson wrote his book.

Sometimes, when I read of Hyde out on the streets in that way I’m reminded of those other supposedly respectable Victorian gentlemen who created a different persona so that they might be able to indulge in pleasures of which their families and friends might disapprove. If you read the pages of the sexual diarist known as Walter, though he lived during the earlier Victorian period, you get a feeling that this was another Hyde, though without his more violent instincts.

And, as people remarked not long after the novel’s publication, perhaps Jack the Ripper was Jekyll by day and Hyde by night. The belief that the serial killer was a doctor was prevalent almost from the start of the murders.

Another possibility that might have come into the mind of an early reader is that Hyde is Jekyll’s illegitimate son. This suggested by the remark that Jekyll had gone slumming in his youth to satisfy those ‘certain appetites’. And that Jekyll is concealing the relationship because Hyde is either insane or, as Stevenson notes, malformed.

In his confession, which ends the book, Jekyll writes that as a young man he had ‘a certain gaiety of disposition…Hence it came about that I concealed my pleasures.’ He tells us that he turned away from all of that as he aged, until the point of the story where the now respectable Dr Jekyll yearns to explore these feelings once again; transforming himself into Hyde to avoid compromising his reputation. Unfortunately, his creation loses control, going, presumably, far beyond Jekyll’s original and youthful vices. Jekyll confesses to the reader:

The pleasures which I made haste to seek in my disguise were, as I have said, undignified; I would scarce use a harder term. But in the hands of Edward Hyde, they soon began to turn towards the monstrous…’

And in quite an early conversation in the narrative, Stevenson has Jekyll tell Utterson – and perhaps issue the more salacious reader with a caveat against assuming too much – that ‘it isn’t what you fancy; it is not as bad as that…’

Perhaps not as Jekyll, but what about his indulgences as Hyde?

The conclusion of the story, Jekyll’s written confession, is a masterpiece of narration, as Hyde and Jekyll battle each other to present a point of view. The first revelation of the truth about the transformation of Jekyll into Hyde has driven Dr Lanyon to his death. Here we are given a detailed reason why.

The novel succeeds or fails here. The fictional narrator, supposedly Jekyll, hardly, at this point, knows who he is. At one point he seems to be looking and considering whether to let either Jekyll or Hyde triumph. He has become some third-person standing outside them both, unsure of which way to lean:

‘To cast in my lot with Jekyll, was to die to those appetites which I had long secretly indulged and had of late begun to pamper. To cast it in with Hyde, was to die to a thousand interests and aspirations, and to become, at a blow and forever, despised and friendless.’

There is no answer, only death. The desires of Dr Jekyll can only be subdued that way.
There is no doubt that the first readers were shocked at the conclusion. It inspired a huge amount of comment in society at the time. Not just in the newspapers and reviews, but as the subject of church sermons and philosophical debates. The Victorian readership were forced to confront the reality of the nature of man. That there is light and darkness within all of us.

But they may well have breathed a sigh of relief that the solution to the “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde” was not much worse. Not any of the other socially unacceptable possibilities that a very clever writer had planted in their minds.

And yes, when I was writing my William Quest novels, where the ‘hero’ is a respectable man who goes out on to the streets to kill, albeit with benevolent motives, I certainly had Mr Hyde in mind.

(c) John Bainbridge 2020

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

I’ve been re-reading Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The story has been perennially popular since Robert Louis Stevenson first wrote it in 1885 while enjoying a seaside recuperation at Bournemouth. It was published a year later.

It is one of those rare works of fiction where you can just say the title and everyone will know what you mean. Although, the majority, I suspect, have never read the original tale, taking their knowledge of the story from films and television. Many will not even know that the correct title is actually “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”.

We can, of course, never read it in quite the same way as its first readers. By now surely everyone knows that Jekyll transforms into the malignant Hyde? The original shock value of that transformation can never be recaptured. But how often today do we read or hear of someone having a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ personality?

Why does the story still hold such power 130 years after it was written? To start with, it was an instant bestseller. The book sold over 40,000 copies in its first six months. It was read with interest by Queen Victoria herself, the prime minister and had an influence on writers and artists. The story and its moral implications became the subject of newspaper editorials and church sermons. It almost instantly inspired stage-plays, with members of audiences reportedly fainting during the transformation scenes – well, that was the spin put out by theatre managements anyway!

Richard Mansfield’s acting performance in the role in the London of 1888 just happened to come along at the same time as the Whitechapel Murders. Indeed, some audience members thought that Mansfield might even be Jack the Ripper. Or that the story and play might have inspired the killings. The kind of publicity that modern-day authors would kill for (pun intended!) The gentler Stevenson would probably have been less sure.

Legend has it that Stevenson wrote and corrected the story more or less in three days. Legend has it wrong, I’m afraid. The actual work covered about six weeks in time, though that’s not bad going for a 64,000 word book. And it was not originally envisaged as a moral parable. Stevenson was hard up and needed the money, as authors tend to do. It certainly fulfilled that purpose.

In fact it was written and intended to be published as a “crawler” – one of those Christmas stories so beloved of Dickens, slightly scary, designed to appeal for the mass-market, something with a slight gothic edge. Rather like his previous yarns “The Body Snatcher” and “Olalla”. Stevenson meant it to be published for the Christmas of 1885. In fact it appeared a month later.

Interestingly, given the nature of the plot, his publisher Longmans issued it in two separate editions; a cloth binding for the wealthier reader of literature at 1s 6d and a cheaper paper covered edition for mass readership at 1 shilling. Almost as soon as a copy had crossed the Atlantic it was massively pirated, robbing Stevenson of much needed royalties.

The story goes that Stevenson gained the germ of the story during a nightmare – worth pointing out that he was, like many a Victorian, taking drugs at the time for poor health – being woken by his wife Fanny as he cried out in his sleep. He told her it was a pity that he’d been wakened as he was dreaming “a fine bogey tale.”

Inspired, he wrote a version of it down at white heat and presented it to his spouse to read. Famously, she tore his tale to shreds, saying that he’d missed an opportunity to present the morality of the plot. To her horror he threw the manuscript into the fire, and began again.

But what was that original draft like, and why did Fanny object so much? It’s possible that it resembled far more some of the film versions, with the sexual overtones of Hyde as a man about town, depicting Victorian London in all its grimmest aspects. Suggestions have been made that this was what scared Fanny so much. She was, after all, trying to nurture a literary genius towards deserved and widespread fame. And these were prudish times. At least for works that were to find an audience in print.

On the other hand, Stevenson himself, in a letter to a friend, decried a stage production that included more sexual connotations to the story, though his own argument in that letter makes little logical sense.

It is quite likely that in the earlier version, Jekyll created Hyde as a cover and alibi so that he might carry out his own unpleasant yearnings. When we think back on the story, memory might play us false. Readers tend to remember Jekyll as all good and Hyde as all bad. But that’s not what Stevenson actually says in the text.

While Hyde is irredeemably evil, Stevenson quite clearly suggests a side of Jekyll that is at best louche and at worst, well?

One of the characters remembers that Jekyll was ‘wild when he was young; a long while ago to be sure; but in the law of God, there is no statute of limitations. Ay, it must be that; a ghost of some old sin, the cancer of some concealed disgrace, pede claudo, years after memory has forgotten and self-love condemned the fault.’

Now what is all that about? I believe it to be a trace of the character of Jekyll left behind from the original draft. After all, and it’s the question that the reader should always be asking, why has Jekyll created the ability of becoming Hyde in the first place? Scientific curiosity or something more prurient?

Was Stevenson recalling something of his own youth? He was brought up with a respectable Edinburgh background. His first real influence was his very Calvinistic nurse. And yet Stevenson went wild in his youth, roaming the streets and brothels of his native city, almost with an alternative identity as ‘Velvet Coat’, as the dwellers in its underworld nicknamed him. It’s known that he fell in love with a young prostitute, even considering the prospect of marriage to her – to the horror of his family. Word had got around. Edinburgh is quite a small place.

And for all that the book is set in London, there are surely elements of Edinburgh there too. We see the respectable squares of the city and the rookeries that are really not so far away. The duality of the city landscape, something like Edinburgh’s old and new towns, where there is the past and poverty on one side and enlightenment and wealth on the other.

The city that Stevenson describes, London, is shown to the reader in a nightmarish way, with its citizens almost morally drowning under a sea of fog, which clings to the streets and buildings like the corruption and depravity that are not so very far away.

Jekyll’s own house is shown to have two sides, like its owner. It remains a fashionable home in a slightly run down but respectable square. But to its rear is the block where Jekyll carries out his experiments.

We are told that they were once the dissecting rooms of a respectable surgeon – bringing forward suggestions of body snatching and doubtful acts of anatomy. The block has its own door leading to a more dubious area of the town – the suggestion is that this is the door through which stolen bodies were smuggled. The street beyond is not quite a rookery but a poor place, where the denizens of the underworld might linger. Respectable gentlemen only seem to walk it armed with a heavy cane – or perhaps a swordstick.

And it is quite clear that it is those elements that Jekyll wishes to explore, behind the alias of his sinister alter ego. And though Stevenson destroyed his original draft, written at such speed, the writer within him took over, presenting a series of assumptions and challenges for the careful reader.

In a forthcoming blog, I shall look at how Stevenson suggests secrets in his book, how he plays – I think quite deliberately – with his readers’ imaginings. And I shall try to recapture the feelings the first readers of the story might have had, trying to put to one side the now well-known solution to the “Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde”.

The Victorian Underworld by Kellow Chesney

If any one book inspired me to write my William Quest Victorian thrillers it’s this one, Kellow Chesney’s very readable and scholarly book on the Victorian underworld. It was first published in 1970 and – for me – is the standard work on this fascinating subject.Victorian Underworld: Chesney, Kellow

I first encountered it when I was an undergraduate at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Although I majored in literature, I did a minor in nineteenth-century social history. The underworld was only a small part of my studies, but discovering Kellow Chesney’s book sent me of on a wider reading programme, both in secondary reading and the primary sources.

When I’m asked to recommend a book on the Victorian underworld this is the one I suggest as a first read. There are several other titles I like – and I hope to give these a mention on the blog in the coming months – but Kellow Chesney’s book is the most comprehensive and the best introduction.

It’s all here, starting with a walk through the mid-century streets of London – and how vividly the author portrays the place. This is no dull work of scholarship, it’s a page-turner as exciting as all the best mystery thrillers.

Then from the main streets frequented by the richest members of society, Kellow Chesney takes the reader to the borders of the underworld, the places where the dispossessed and those forced into crime to survive are obliged to lurk – and the boundaries between the rookeries and the smart streets of society are often back to back.

We are then taken on a journey into the rookeries themselves. Kellow Chesney conjures them up in all their awfulness. It is impossible to understand the Victorian criminal underworld unless you can understand the causes of crime.

Here are the beggars, the pick-pockets, the footpads and the swell mob. The skilled cracksmen who break the safes and steal the jewellery of the richest members of society. Here are the magsmen, gonophs, macers and shofulmen. The screevers and the Newgate mob.

There were perhaps 80000 prostitutes in Victorian London alone. Kellow Chesney deals sympathetically with their plight, whether they were working the poorest streets in the East End for pennies or selling themselves for much more in the night houses in the West End.

The book is wonderfully illustrated, mostly with the sketches of the great Gustave Dore, adding to the feeling of being there so brilliantly evoked in Mr Chesney’s words. If you can, seek out one of the original hardback editions – the pictures are not so well reproduced in the paperback editions.

When I came to write William Quest, Kellow Chesney’s book was the first I re-read. If you want a good understanding of the Victorian underworld, I commend it to you.

The Seafront Corpse – on sale this week

 The Seafront Corpse is on sale on Kindle for this week only for 99 pence/cents. It’s also out in paperback. A mystery with a traditional 1930s setting.

Set in 1931, newly promoted Inspector Eddie Chance is back in his home town. Reunited with his old pal Sergeant Bishop in the sleepy Sussex town of Tennysham-on-Sea. The only cloud on their horizon is a young police-woman with ambitions to be a detective.

The seaside resort is getting ready for the first day trippers of the season. When the body of a stranger is found on the promenade, Inspector Chance is faced with a baffling murder…

A traditional 1930s murder mystery set in a vanished England of typewriters, telephone boxes and tweeds.

A Walk into the Victorian Underworld

If you wander down the right bank of the River Thames from Tower Bridge, you’ll come to a block of luxury flats, close to the old St Saviour’s Dock, that is still called Jacob’s Island. It is one of those anonymous dockland blocks, where each individual property costs a great deal of money. To live there would cost the kind of wealth that would have been unimaginable to the folk who lived around Jacob’s Island in the early part of Queen Victoria’s reign.folly_ditch

For, until the 1850s, this was one of the worst slums in Victorian England. A rookery too, in many ways. A place where people were forced to resort to crime in order to exist.

I’ve always been fascinated with Jacob’s Island, ever since I first read about it in the works of Charles Dickens, Charles Kingsley, and the social commentator Henry Mayhew. Having walked around the site of the old rookery, I wanted to write about it too.

In my book Deadly Quest, I’ve featured Jacob’s Island quite a bit. My novel has its climax there.

I first heard of Jacob’s Island when I was a boy, and first read Oliver Twist, a novel which reaches its conclusion there. It’s portrayed as the last refuge of Fagin and his gang of pickpockets. It’s the place where Bill Sikes meets his end. Charles Dickens visited the place several times, though it changed over his time. I’ve walked there a few times as well, though there is nothing of the old Victorian rookery to see. But then, when I walk the streets of London, I live in an imaginative past, constructing from a few old buildings the city that has long gone. Here is some of Dickens’ description (I urge you to re-read it in full):

...surrounded by a muddy ditch, six or eight feet deep and fifteen or twenty wide when the tide is in, once called Mill Pond, but known in these days as the Folly Ditch… in Jacob’s Island, the warehouses are roofless and empty; the walls are crumbling down; the doors are falling into the streets; the chimneys are blackened, but they yield no smoke… the houses have no owners; they are broken open, and entered upon by those who have the courage; and there they live, and there they die. They must have powerful motives for a secret residence… who seek a refuge in Jacob’s Island. Oliver Twist, Chapter 50.

So outraged were some London officials by Dickens’ description of Jacob’s Island that they attacked him quite publicly. One city Alderman denied that Jacob’s Island even existed. But it did, and it was probably much worse than even Dickens described. The then Bishop of London, concerned about the appalling conditions, agreed that Dickens’ description was accurate.

Influenced by the social commentary of Henry Mayhew, Charles Kingsley gives his own description of Jacob’s Island in his social novel Alton Locke. If you want to understand the full horror of the place all three writers’ works are well worth seeking out.

Given these descriptions by some of our greatest writers, I was  daunted at the thought of portraying Jacob’s Island in Deadly Quest. But, in a way, my portrayal of Jacob’s Island is much later than theirs. Oliver Twist is set during the reign of William IV, Kingsley and Mayhew’s work a trifle before my book, where the events take place in 1854.

At that time the old rookery of Jacob’s Island was going through its death throes. The London authorities had recognised that the conditions were too appalling to be tolerated any longer.

There had been an outbreak of cholera in the early 1850s – not surprising given that the residents took their drinking water from the Folly Ditch. Some of the island’s buildings had been demolished. Parts of the Folly Ditch, a foul waterway that penetrated to the heart of the district, had been filled-in by 1854. In fact, I’ve taken a few liberties and preserved – for the sake of Deadly Quest – a little more than probably actually survived in 1854.

In my novel, only the truly desperate are still living on Jacob’s Island. I’ve made it the haunt of criminals – after all, my book is a thriller. The sad truth is that only the most pitiful would have still been clinging on, criminals only in the sense that they had to survive.

Deadly Quest is the second of my William Quest novels and is available on Kindle and in paperback

All Four Robin Hood Books for just £3.96

All four of my Robin Hood novels are on sale this week in Britain and America for your Kindle – or download a free Kindle App for your phone or tablet.

Just £3.96 for the four books, or the equivalent in dollars.

They are also out in paperback.

Here’s the link… 

From Book 1: 1198 A.D A hooded man brings rebellion to the forest…
Lionheart’s England, with the King fighting in Normandy… For the oppressed villagers of Sherwood there is no escape from persecution and despair. They exist under the sufferance of their brutal overlords.

When a mysterious stranger saves a miller’s son from cruel punishment, the Sheriff of Nottingham sends the ruthless Sir Guy of Gisborne to hunt him down.

His past life destroyed, Robin of Loxley must face his greatest challenge yet. Deadly with a longbow and a sword, he will fight tyranny and injustice, encounter allies and enemies old and new.

The vast Sherwood Forest with its hidden glades and ancient pathways is the last refuge of wolfsheads. Here their bloody battles will be fought, friendships forged and loyalties tested.

Loxley will become Robin Hood. Notorious leader of outlaws.

Their daring deeds will become legend in this exciting work of historical fiction.

This is the first in a four-part series “The Chronicles of Robin Hood”, and includes an historical note on the origins of the famous outlaw. Read the other three titles “Wolfshead”, “Villain” and “Legend” now.


Writing a Victorian Mystery

Is writing an historical mystery easy? I don’t think so. You need a great deal of knowledge about the period if you are going to get things right. People in history weren’t just individuals like us but in odd clothes.

Take the world of the Victorians – for those of us living in Britain, the Victorians can seem very familiar. They weren’t so different from us. We can walk and sometimes live in the buildings they did. Many of our institutions are the same as theirs. We face, often, very similar problems.

For the writer, this can seem reassuringly familiar. But there are differences too, despite some of our politicians wanting and often succeeding in crashing us back to Victorian Values.

There is much about the Victorian landscape that’s quite fascinating. But there’s a lot we don’t miss.

When I wrote The Shadow of William Quest, I concentrated on the appalling injustices of the Victorian Age. My character, William Quest, is a far-sighted reformer, a righter of wrongs. In the sequel, Deadly Quest, he plunges four-square into the unpleasantness of the Victorian underworld.

But, although I’ve a degree in Victorian history, I’m not writing a history book. I’m penning a novel, an historical mystery. What the Victorians themselves would call a Penny Dreadful, or a Shocker. The three Quest books are adventure stories, thrillers, though they are very much rooted in the realities of mid 19th century Victorian England.

Some writers get carried away with their love of research. You will always find out far more about the historical period than you will ever use. If, when reading the novel, the research stands out like a history essay, then you’ve got it wrong.

You need to drip-feed information. If it’s not strictly relevant to the story, then it shouldn’t be there. However interesting the fact you’ve found out, if it holds up the story and its action it don’t put it in..

Readers read fiction to be entertained. They might welcome learning something new about the historical period, but that should be the limit. Save the detailed research for a non-fiction history book. It’s important that you should know, but you don’t need to pour it all out into the pages of your novel.

In the third William Quest story Dark Shadow, I moved the location from London to the English city of York. A place famous now for its Roman and Viking history, more than its Victorian past. But in fact it had its own rookeries and criminal underworld. As someone who loves York, it is fascinating exploring and utilising a non-London setting. You don’t need to set your story in a big city at all. There was a lot of crime in rural areas.

It’s enthralling trying to write my own take on the Penny Dreadful or Shocker.

How did it all come about?

I’d always wanted to write a book set in Victorian times, not least because much of the Victorian world is still familiar to those of us living in the UK. As we wander through the streets of Britain we can – if we lift our eyes above the modern fascias on the shops – still see what our Victorian forebears saw.

The same street patterns, by and large, many of the same buildings, and much of the landscapes they knew. Too much has been lost, and we should be saving what is left, but the Victorian street map may still be traced.

If we could travel back in time, we could enter the 1850’s world of William Quest with little difficulty. Though there would be some surprises. It could be a brutal world, not as settled as some people have implied. There are many Victorian Values that deserved to be relegated to the history books.

My William Quest is a radical. His ideas bore fruit, though it doesn’t always seem like it.

I’ve always been interested in Victorian Britain, since the subject was taught at my primary school. Much of our great literature was written in the 19th century. Reading those classic books plunges back into that world. We are – for good or bad – still little Victorians in so many ways.

I knew some Victorians, of course, though they were all born late in the period. Nevertheless, I remember them well, their attitudes and the way they talked. My grandparents were Victorians, though they were all very young when the old Queen died.

For quite a time, I moved away from Victorian history, into other periods. As some of you will know, I’ve also written historical novels about Robin Hood – LoxleyWolfshead, Villain and Legend, so I have a passion for that period. For a long time I’ve had an interest in the English Civil War. I like the Anglo-Saxons too. (My Robin Hood novels are on Kindle sale from Sunday night for a week.)

The Victorians tended to go on the back-burner.

Then, over thirty years ago, I became an undergraduate of the Open University, doing an arts course that was almost entirely Victorian. After a couple of years, I went as a full-time undergraduate to the University of East Anglia.

My major was literature, though I did a minor in 19th century social history, some of which looked at the Victorian underworld. It all stayed in my mind, though work pressures kept the writing of fiction at bay. I did, however, write the texts for a series of topographical books about the towns and landscapes of England – and much of that was Victorian.

I spent nine years working as chief executive of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, founded in 1883 and very proud of its Victorian campaigning roots.

The Victorians never quite went away.

I wanted to write a novel with a slightly dubious hero set in Victorian times, a kind of Penny Dreadful, the kind of pulp literature of action and derring-do that the Victorians themselves enjoyed reading – though they’d often pretend that their literary tastes were a tad more pretentious.Dark Shadow Cover copy

I’ve always loved such tales myself, and used to hunt them out when I was an undergraduate. They were all good fun, sometimes morally dubious. But a reading of them tells a lot about Victorian popular taste. I go as far as to state that you cannot grasp the complexities of Victorian society if you don’t read them.

While I enjoy the finer works of literature I also worship their slightly more questionable cousins – and that in itself is something I have in common with my Victorian ancestors…

To read the William Quest books, please click on the link to my Author Page. They’re available in paperback as well as Kindle eBooks: