Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Invention of Murder

Some of the best social histories of the Victorian era are written by Judith Flanders, a British historian and journalist.  My library just acquired The Invention of Murder:  How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime.  

I've read a quarter of the book and can tell you it's meticulously researched and engagingly written. I've uncovered a few nuggets.

When the first police force was created in London, its members were given blue uniforms to accentuate that the force was not connected to the military (who wore red, as I imagine most of you know).  Soldiers were considered to be of low character and far too accustomed to violent death.

The current style of helmet worn by London bobbies was introduced in 1864.

Ever heard the expression "to read someone the riot act?"  The Riot Act of 1715 permitted "tumultuous and riotous assemblies" to be broken up with force only after the Act had been read aloud and a one hour period had expired.

The media hype surrounding the trials of O.J., Jodi Arias, and George Zimmerman, to name just a few, isn't a recent development.  Victorian era newspapers issued special editions covering famous trials, stage plays were introduced before the trials had even begun, and the public had a ravenous appetite for ghoulish detail.  The body of one murderer was publicly displayed after his execution - 30,000 filed by to have a look.  Fascinating stuff.  You can visit the author's website here.

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