Magazine October 19, 2015, Issue

Violence before Victoria

Murder by Candlelight: The Gruesome Slayings behind Our Romance with the Macabre, by Michael Knox Beran (Pegasus, 258 pp., $27.95)

In this era of orange-suited victims beheaded or buried alive en masse by jihadist fanatics, Michael Knox Beran would like to take us back to an earlier era of shocking horrors, the “classical age of murder” that reigned, as he sees it, in England in the quarter century from 1811 to 1837. He calls upon court testimony, contemporary news accounts, and especially the writings of the Romantic prose masters Thomas De Quincey and Thomas Carlyle to reexamine, in all their ghastliness, a series of murders that transfixed, delighted, and terrified the English public of the day.

And what is a “classical

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